The Belarusian Supreme Court began the trial of former presidential hopeful Viktor Babariko (Viktar Babaryka) on Tuesday, February 17.
The former “Belgazprombank” executive, who attempted to register his candidacy for a presidential run against Alexander Lukashenko in 2020, stands accused of corruption along with six other top managers from the bank. In turn, Viktor Kobyak, the co-owner of a company called “Aktivlizing,” has been charged with attempting to bribe the bankers.
According to Belarusian investigators, Babariko organized a group of his subordinates to systematically take bribes beginning in 2004. Allegedly, they collected more than 30 million Belarusian rubles (more than $11 million by today’s exchange rate) from various corporate clients over the course of 16 years.
Babariko also stands accused of buying one million Belarusian rubles (about $385,000) worth of real estate in Minsk to launder the illicit funds. Babariko maintains that he isn’t guilty of the charges. The six other defendants in the case, however, have made plea deals with state investigators.
During the first hearing on February 17, Babariko’s defense team requested the disqualification of judge Igor Lyubovitsky, and sought to have their client transferred to house arrest. The court rejected both petitions, the Belarusian news outlet Tut.by reported.
If convicted, Babariko faces up to 15 years in prison.
In the lead up to the August 2020 presidential election in Belarus, Viktor Babariko emerged as the leading potential candidate and main opponent of Alexander Lukashenko (who has been in power since 1994). He was arrested in June following a raid on Belgazprombank’s office. Election officials subsequently refused to register his candidacy for the presidential election.