The crisis broke out, putting many businessmen, who were considered to be the preferences of Belarusian leaders behind bars. Some use bribery to remain at large; many spend time in prison.
Why are there no guarantees even if businessmen are close to the political elites? Does the termination of high-profile arrests mean that the government quenched its thirst for blood? Or is it a lull in the fight?
Aleh Volchak, former investigator, the head of the center Legal Aid to the Population (Kyiv, Ukraine), answered the questions of the "EuroBelarus» Information Service.
- Why do the businessmen who are close to the political elites end behind bars?
- There is no classical business in Belarus as there is in Europe and in America, where officials cannot influence business and where courts are independent. Business is directly connected with democracy.
Belarusian business is a state business, which operates according to certain rules of the state: business can be done until it is allowed by the state. And what the state does is withdraw part of the profit. The "oligarchs" were allowed to earn a lot; the state turned a blind eye to many things under one condition – to fill the budget.
But the crisis broke out; the state ran out of money. Businessmen started hiding a lot of money earned during the 20 years of Lukashenka's rule. "Oligarchs" initiated "contractual obligations" to Lukashenka, saying that they will support the budget and governmental programs. When it comes to money, Aliaksandr Lukashenka is a strict boss, for whom no family and no friends exist. Putting businessmen behind bars is a way to return the money.
- The head of Trade house Koltso Yuri Averyanov is hiding from the law enforcement officers in Germany and his business are declared bankrupt one after another. Is his bankruptcy of an economic or political nature?
- Today there is no clear business in Belarus. It is not only Chyzh and Averyanov, who are working in accordance with the back-door schemes, but small and medium enterprises, too. When it comes to money laundering, Belarus can compete with the Italian mafia.
Bankruptcy has two sides of the coin. The first is deliberate bankruptcy, say, business went broke and the firm closes. In this case, there comes economic responsibility. If you don’t go through the bankruptcy procedure, then various “sins” pop out and criminal cases are initiated: tax evasion, illegal business activities, forgery of documents, creation of fictitious firms, etc. For example, one large firm creates 40 small firms that operate up to one year; then they get closed and the whole cycle repeats again. That's how our "billionaires" withdraw money from the country. This scheme has been perfected since 1994, when I worked as an investigator.
I think that bankruptcy is organized on purpose, in order to close unseemly deeds, gray schemes, and deprive the government of the possibility to exploit business.
- Why doesn’t closeness to the authorities guarantee security but is, actually, a risk zone?
- We shouldn’t feel sorry for the "oligarchs". In the United States you might get 20-40 years in prison for money laundering and financial crimes, whereas in Belarus you can only get 8-10 years. The money is registered in the names of relatives, friends, and men of straw. They know what their risks are. Businessmen take risks; they know that sooner or later they might get into trouble, but profit is worth the risk.
- The first wave of high-profile arrests has gone away. Hasthe government quenched its thirst for blood?
- The investigation is quite competent when it comes to economic crimes: first it gets to small and medium firms to catch the big fish afterwards. When Uladzimir Japryntsau was arrested I was surprised that Chyzh was at large. But first operative information is collected and documents are withdrawn – the evidence is collected.
So far we have seen just the tip of the iceberg; big business is constantly being watched by the Interior Ministry, the KGB, the State Control Committee, and the Financial Monitoring Department. The Financial Monitoring Department has enough professionals who monitor "gray" schemes. I think that the next in sight of financial authorities might be the residents of the so-called “tsar village", or rather, of a corrupt village (what is meant is the village Drozdy near Minsk, the place of residence for the political elites of Belarus, including its President Aliaksandr Lukashenka – EuroBelarus). The next victims of the regime might be quite high-ranking officials: ministers, deputy ministers, and members of the Council of the Republic.
- Thus, the officials have no less money than the "oligarchs", don’t they?
- It is the officials who are behind the allotment of land for construction and acquisition of profitable tenders. Therefore, what investigators will do next is verify all Chyzh tenders. Believe me, the construction will reveal a lot of corruption spots.
Today Lukashenka should quickly set the border with Russia, put guards, who will catch fugitives running from Belarus with the bags of money.
The fight against corruption requires a comprehensive approach.