Why top Belarusian businessmen become 'honorary consuls'?

Alyaksandr Mashenski, Alyaksandr Shakutsin and Alyaksandr Zaitsau are also among the honorary consuls / collage by Euroradio​
Alyaksandr Mashenski, Alyaksandr Shakutsin and Alyaksandr Zaitsau are also among the honorary consuls / collage by Euroradio​

More than three dozen honorary consuls of foreign countries work in Belarus. Officially, this is not a diplomatic job. However, such a title gives certain preferences. Thus, one can find many representatives of the top Belarusian businessmen among the "honorary consuls". 

From the article you will learn which businessman represents which country and what "perks" he can expect for that.

Is an honorary consul just a figurehead?

Not exactly. Honorary consuls are not concerned with issues of citizenship and visas, although they can fulfill some functions of "ordinary" consuls: organizing events, legalizing documents, helping people who are in a difficult situation in their country. But the main purpose of their work is to promote relations between countries.

According to the Vienna Convention, honorary consul has certain immunities and guarantees. For example, a person cannot be held administratively or judicially liable for his/her activities in this role. True, there is no protection for the duration of other functions (e.g. business). But there is an exemption of consular premises from taxes and fees. Also honorary consuls get consular cards at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and are entitled to diplomatic plates for official cars.

These are all "perks" in the host country. There are certain possibilities in the country that appoints the Honorary Consul. They are not regulated in any way, but it is easier for a person with this title to meet high-ranking officials or top businessmen. The development of bilateral trade is one of the goals of this institution, so there is nothing to complain about.

Viennese Waltz

One of the most experienced and successful businessmen in the consular field is Syrhei Kastsyuchenka, Honorary Consul of Austria in Belarus. For thirty years he has been heading the board of Priorbank, most of which belongs to the Austrian Raiffeisen Group.

The Austrian Honorary Consulate is located at the same address as the Priorbank office. Kastsyuchenka often participates in events with Austrian businessmen and officials. For example, he was at the opening of the new Austrian Embassy office in Minsk, and before the head of the Austrian Foreign Ministry arrived there he personally cleaned the red carpet from the snow.

Зачем верхушка белорусского бизнеса идёт в "почётные консулы"
The head of the bank made sure that the Austrian foreign minister did not walk on the snow in Minsk / Sputnik

Kastsyuchenka can't be called distant from the Belarusian authorities either: Uladzimir Syamashka used to be the head of the supervisory board of Priorbank, and one of the shareholders was the once all-powerful Uladzimir Peftsiyeu, whom the press used to call one of the "wallets of the regime".

In the past decade, Austria consistently advocated lifting the sanctions that Belarusian officials and businessmen were subjected to after the 2010 presidential election. One of Lukashenka's few foreign visits at that time was to Vienna. But the relationship ended in August 2020.

Rugged Icelandic Guys

Alyaksandr Mashenski, the owner of Santa Bremor, is another prominent honorary consul. He represents Iceland in Belarus. One could winder what interest can there be in working with a country where the population is not much larger than that of Brest? But it's simple: Mashenski actively buys Icelandic fish and seafood.

Зачем верхушка белорусского бизнеса идёт в "почётные консулы"
The lion's share of Belarusian imports from Iceland is seafood. Mashenski's companies account for much of it.

According to data for 2019, Belarus bought $38 million worth of fish from Iceland. Some explain the fact that at the last moment his name was removed from the almost approved "third package" of EU sanctions by some people because of Mashenski's deep ties with Iceland.

Another head of Santa Bremor, director Syarhei Nyadbaylau, is an Honorary Consul of a seemingly non-fish country: Hungary. But he himself admitted that he benefited from this "moonlighting": he participated in a meeting organized by the Hungarian Embassy with businessmen in Budapest. This helped him conclude a contract with the major British retailer Tesco, which also operates in Hungary and the Czech Republic. 

By the way, Hungary has always been against sanctions, too, and tried to actively be friends with Belarus.

Gold, diamonds and strong friendship

Alyaksandr Shakutsin, the owner of Amkodor, is the Honorary Consul of Bangladesh. It is not known what connects him with that country, apart from the assembly center for agricultural machinery. Probably, it is all about this business. For example, the latest negotiations between Amkodor and the Bangladeshi authorities are for supplies of machinery worth 117 million rubles. In addition, one of Shakutsin's longtime business partners, the Nepalese Upendra Mahato, was an Honorary Consul of Bangladesh's neighbor Nepal in Belarus for a long time.

Let's look at another part of the world. For example, the Honorary Consul of Guatemala is Vital Bandaryk. If this name doesn't ring a bell for you, keep reading. He is the head of the Belzarubezhstroy shareholders' meeting, the largest Belarusian company, which deals with construction contracts in other countries - primarily in Latin America. At the same time, Viktar Atroshchyk, deputy general director of Belzarubezhstroy, is an Honorary Consul of Ecuador.

The head of Patio CJSC (chain "Fifth Element") Andrey Balabin is an honorary consul of Chile. What ties him to this country is unknown. But there is an interesting detail in his biography: Balabin used to work for Lukashenko's Administration, which has quite obvious interests in the "far arc" countries.

It's rather well to be an honorary consul of some African country. Alyaksandr Zingman and Alyaksandrr Zaitsau could tell you more about it. Both names may be unfamiliar to most people, but they are interesting businessmen, closely connected with the head of Lukashenka's Department of Affairs, Viktar Sheiman. They seem to have chosen the countries for the "honorary consulate"  alphabetically: Zingman is an Honorary Consul of Zimbabwe, Zaitsau --- of Zambia.

But this division is arbitrary: both businessmen have serious interests in these two countries and in Africa in general. The main focus is the supply of machinery, both for agriculture (Zingman is active there) and diamond mining (Zaitsau's "Sohra" is engaged in this).

Zingman is absent from the Belarusian media field, but the African media call him a "successful businessman" and "adviser to the Belarusian presidential aide". However, the attitude to him is also ambiguous: the information about Zingman's quite close contacts with the president of Zambia caused serious criticism of the latter.


Зачем верхушка белорусского бизнеса идёт в "почётные консулы"
Zingman (center) drinking wine with Zambia's president / NewsDiggers

The Republic of Congo is represented in Belarus by Ukrainian-Belarusian businessman Artur Hrants, who co-owns a chain of jewelry stores. However, it is impossible to say for sure whether his "consulate" is connected with the amount of gold and diamonds in this country.

Businessman Syarhei Tsyatseryn, who gathered watermelons with Lukashenka several times, is the Honorary Consul of Georgia -- and he opened the consulate itself in the village of Alyaksandryia. Perhaps, here it is more about strong friendship than business: there is no information about Tsyatseryn's business projects with Georgia.

There are other businessmen in the list of honorary consuls, but they are less interesting in the context of possible connections with the Belarusian authorities.