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2nd Feb 2023

Feature

Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data show

  • Anna Lukashenko (r) with Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko (c) and other family members (Photo: president.gov.by)
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Lavish birthday trips to Michelin-starred restaurants in France, skiing in Austria, and sunbathing in Italy — leaked flight data show how the family of ruthless Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko lived la dolce vita in Europe.

Meanwhile, a jailed opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova, was taken into intensive care in hospital in Belarus this week, her relatives said.

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  • Anna Lukashenko's brother-in-law, Volodomyr Kulakov, at the l'Atelier d'Edmond restaurant in France in 2018 (Photo: instagram.com)

She is one of thousands of victims of Lukashenko's crackdown on people who rejected his fake re-election in 2020 — an ongoing horror show that risks being forgotten amid the daily headlines of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Lukashenko himself, his two adult sons Dmitry and Viktor, as well as Viktor's wife Liliya, are all on EU visa-ban and asset-freeze lists.

But the president's youngest son Kolya (a student), Dmitry's wife Anna Lukashenko, and several minor relatives haven't been blacklisted.

And as Anna's dictator father-in-law continues to inflict misery on people like Kolesnikova, the leaked flight records show the kind of luxury that the ruling clan likes to enjoy in the heart of the EU, given the chance.

In one trip in January 2018, for instance, Anna, her sister, and their families flew to the French Alps for 11 days, from where they posted a picture on Instagram in the two-Michelin starred restaurant, l'Atelier d'Edmond in Val-d'Isère, where a boozy dinner, containing delicacies such as frogs' legs in horseradish, costs €400 per person.

In 2017, Anna and her family also went skiing in Innsbruck (Austria), celebrated her birthday in a 25-day long splurge in Cagliari (Italy) on a private jet, and visited the five-star Banana Island Resort in Doha.

The flight data, covering the period 2011 to 2019, was obtained by Belarusian hacker-activists Cyber Partisans and published by a group of exiled journalists called the Belarusian Investigative Center.

The cost of the 2017 and 2018 trips alone would be at least €480,000 — way beyond Anna and her husband's declared joint incomes of some €80,000 a year, the Belarusian Investigative Center noted, in a glaring sign of regime corruption.

It is unknown where Anna is working these days or if she and her entourage are still using their EU travel perks.

But records show that in 2018 and 2020 she used to work in BelAZ Trading House, which sells Belarusian trucks and machine parts in Russia.

Her husband Dmitry is chairman of a state-public association, the Presidential Sports Club, which EU sanctions documents describe as a front for Lukashenko-family business interests.

And Anna's sister and brother-in-law (Tatiana Kulakova and Volodymyr Kulakov) are also in the family firm.

Tatiana, who often holidayed in the EU with Anna, works for a state-funded TV production company, while Volodymyr runs the Tennis Club part of Dmitry Lukashenko's sports empire.

Tatiana also has a small chain of clothes shops, one of which is in the same mall as Liliya Lukashenko's art gallery in Minsk.

Anna Lukashenko's travel to EU cities over the years included Barcelona, Ljubljana, Frankfurt, Munich, Pisa, Thessaloniki, and Vienna, the flight data showed.

And some of the trips highlighted the Lukashenko family's business ties in Austria, the Western Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East.

In 2017, for instance, Anna and her husband flew home from a birthday trip in Cagliari to Minsk with a Slovenian businessman, Zivorad Smiljković from the Ljubljana-based firm Riko, which has trousered tens of millions of euros in construction contracts in Belarus.

In 2019, Smiljković also flew with Lukashenko's closest relatives from Sion (Switzerland) to the Belarusian capital.

But not all of the dictator's associates are so lucky.

Lukashenko's presidential jet, a VIP model of a Boeing-767, has golden toilet bowls, Belarusian activists revealed in 2021.

But when Lukashenko visited Yerevan last week, his long-serving foreign minister, Viktor Makai, flew home on a Soviet-era cargo plane, amid overboard temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius and in onboard temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius.

Makai can be seen rubbing his cold, anxious hands together on the flight in an interview with the CTV.by broadcaster one week ago — shortly before he died, suddenly, on 26 November.

The EU last updated its Belarus sanctions, which also include economic measures, in March on grounds of Belarus' "role in the Russian military aggression of Ukraine".

Its previous sanctions covered people responsible for "unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters" and those who financially "benefited from the Lukashenko regime".

Nosebleed

"The existing sanctions on Belarus are reviewed regularly in light of the developments on the ground," an EU foreign service spokesman said, when asked by EUobserver if further blacklistings were in the pipeline.

The Belarusian opposition-in-exile in Lithuania has also circulated a dossier to EU diplomats, seen by EUobserver, calling for "more devastating economic sanctions" and for Europe to "find and freeze assets of Lukashenko's family and its 'wallets'."

But not much is happening on Lukashenko in Brussels.

"There's no proposal [for more Belarus sanctions] on the table. We're talking about the next [ninth] Russia sanctions package, but there's nothing on Belarus," an EU diplomat said.

Another EU source said: "Even the new Russia sanctions are moving ahead like a slow nosebleed, due to fatigue, which is reprehensible given the level of ordinary people's suffering in Ukraine".

The EU embassy in Minsk was making enquiries about the health of Kolesnikova, the jailed Belarusian opposition leader, the source said, in what they called "silent diplomacy".

Asked what would need to happen in Belarus to trigger a further round of EU sanctions, the source added: "Let's pray nothing happens because people there already can't breathe anyway".

But if there was to be another round, it would likely target the remaining "flowers" of the regime clan, as well as sanctions circumventers, propagandists, and law-enforcement officials, the EU source added.

Lukashenko's student son, Kolya, wouldn't be listed because of his youth, unless he had "personally committed some drastic crime", the source said.

"But if Anna [Lukashenko] is still happily flying around the EU, we should be taking a look at that," the source added.

Author bio

The Belarusian Investigative Center is a group of journalists in exile, part of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

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