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Off the hook? Top Belarus business people who managed to avoid sanctions
Pavel Topuzidis, Viktor Prokopenya, Aleksander Moshensky / collage by Euroradio
Aliaksandr Lukashenka's "moneybags for the regime" are one of the Western sanctions' targets. As the leader's confidants, these are businessmen who directly benefit from this closeness and, in exchange, aid the government and support the higher-ups.
Some of them are already under sanctions, like, for example, Aleksey Oleksin and Nikolay Vorobey. But others are still somehow "dodging the raindrops" despite being considered loyal to the Belarusian government. Here's the story of who they are and what kind of money flows they control.
According to the latest Top 100 of the most successful Belarusian businesspeople, Aleksander Moshensky ranks No. 6. His core assets are seafood manufacturer Santa Bremor and dairy products maker Savushkin Product. He also owns companies located in Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova.
Over the years of doing business, not only did Moshensky manage to buy several state-run dairy factories and trading networks from the government, but he was also a delegate to the All Belarusian People's Congress in 2010. Lukashenka even mentioned him in his speech. The same year, Moshensky was Lukashenka's trusted representative during the presidential elections.
He became a member of the Entrepreneurship Development Council of Belarus and headed the Belarus Rowing Federation, replacing the then chairman of the National Bank at this post.
Moshensky is a member of the Belarusian-Russian Business Council. He has received several state awards. In 2018, he won the auction to buy a chocolate bar with Lukashenka's signature for 20,000 Belarusian rubles ($10,000).
Why wasn't Aleksander Moshensky put under sanctions? Several independent sources claim that he was going to end up on the "hit list." Even Moshensky himself confirmed that, admitting that he "took certain precautions" not to experience any restrictions.
Later, he participated in drafting the Ppresident's Decree on Development of Digital Economy and promoted it actively.
At the beginning of 2020, a press office of Gutseriev's company Slavkaliy reached out to the media with a proposal to publish an article written by Prokopenya about the Belarusian government's successes in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Some media did publish it.
During the first days of the August 2020 protests in Belarus, Prokopenya wrote: "Following current events brings me pain. I am against violence. Every act of violence generates new evil. We're all very different, but we must solve our problems by peaceful means only. Belarus is a home for us; it's our motherland. And we're responsible for it. All we have to do is to come to an arrangement. We need a dialogue." The next day, he announced a $100,000 donation for the people hurt during the protests. After that, he did not say anything for the benefit of either of the sides.
A businessman Pavel Topuzidis was allowed to break the state monopoly on tobacco manufacturing back in the day. For a long time, all Belarus had was a state-owned factory called Neman and Topuzidis' enterprise Tabak-invest. Later, Aleksey Oleksin was allowed into the business.
Of course, one could also find him at The All Belarusian People's Congress.
The businessman frequently met with Lukashenka. Once, in his private office. Then, on Lake Narach, where Topuzidis planned on building an aquatics center. He was always pretty explicit about his beliefs, saying, "Some think you can do anything and nothing will hurt you. I disagree. There should be order, as well as indulgences, and, of course, there should always be civil responsibility," Pavel Topuzidis told the state TV channel Belarus 1 in the summer of 2020.
He is, just like Moshensky, an Honorary Consul. And not of one, but two countries: Greece (which fits his origins) and Romania. Perhaps, it also helped him evade the sanctions.
Pavel Belyi has not been big on public appearances lately. That's why his name might sound unfamiliar to you. Yet, ranked 21 in the Top 100, he owns a major real estate development company.
Belyi started as a hockey player, then upgraded to playing for Lukashenka's team, and after that, he went into business. Now the list of his assets includes Tapas group of companies, a real estate agency Megapolis, and fitness centers Platforma and X-Fit, to name a few.
Last year, Lukashenka's press secretary Natalia Eismont bought an apartment in the residential complex "Olympic Park" from Belyi's father. His company also built an infamous Lebyazhy restaurant. Lukashenka even visited its launching party! In the same restaurant, Viktor Lukashenka organized a concert for his inner circle in May 2020. Victoria Lukashenka, a family patriarch's granddaughter, got married there in August.
Belyi also supports his leader's athletic escapades, like, for example, during the sports festival Minsk Ski Track, he plays for Lukashenka's team.
Belyi has no obvious foreign connections.
Alexander Zingman's rank in the Businessmen Top-100 is a modest 62. His political muscle looks impressive, though. He's Viktor Sheiman's (an ex-Head of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate) trusted representative. And despite not being in direct contact with Lukashenka, Zingman is close with the president's confidant. His name was also on the proposed sanctions lists.
Aftrade, Zingman's company registered in the United Arab Emirates, sells Russian and Belarusian technical equipment all over Africa. Often, African media claim Zingman doesn't just sell tractors but also deals in weapons. At the beginning of the year, he was detained on that suspicion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He has close ties with the authorities of several African countries and, as the local media suggests, some public figures in Israel.
At the same time, Zingman is an Honorary Consul of Zimbabwe in Belarus. It will not help him fight the possible sanctions, but it benefits his business very well.
Who will be next on the sanctions list?
The EU is currently working on the fifth package of sanctions. The US is cooking up new restrictions as well, but no details are available. There was a notion that the new sanctions list may now include selected "moneybags." What happens next depends on their eligibility and validity – and on the lobbyists' interests, too, of course.
The new sanctions are expected in October.