Lukashenko rival Viktor Babariko sentenced to 14 years in prison
On July 6, the Belarusian Supreme Court sentenced ex-Belgazprombank executive and former presidential hopeful Viktor Babariko (Viktar Babaryka) to 14 years in a maximum security prison. The verdict was handed down during a mobile court session at the Moskovsky District Court in Minsk.
The Supreme Court also fined Babariko more than $57,000 and ordered the recovery of more than 46 million Belarusian rubles (more than $18 million) from him “as compensation for damage caused.”
Babriko’s lawyer, Dmitry Laevsky, said that the defense will challenge the verdict, since it was “based on charges that lie outside the law.”
Babariko was accused of “accepting bribes in an especially large amount” and laundering funds obtained by criminal means. He maintains his innocence. Prosecutors had asked the Supreme Court to sentence him to 15 years in prison.
According to the prosecution, Babariko and a group of his subordinates at Belgazprombank systematically took bribes beginning in 2004. Mediazona Belarus writes that the prosecution considered dividends that the bank’s subsidiaries paid to foreign firms supposedly linked to Babariko as bribes. Allegedly, the bank’s top managers collected more than 30 million Belarusian rubles (more than $11.8 million by today’s exchange rate) from various corporate clients over the course of 16 years.
The prosecution also accused Babariko of laundering money by acquiring real estate in Minsk worth more than 1 million Belarusian rubles ($394,000).
In May 2020, Viktor Babariko announced plans to run in the Belarusian presidential election — he was considered the leading potential candidate and main opponent of incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Babariko was arrested in June following a raid on Belgazprombank’s office. Election officials subsequently refused to register his candidacy for the presidential election. Following the presidential vote in August, election officials declared that Lukashenko had won his sixth consecutive presidential term, sparking mass opposition protests in Belarus.