Updated at 23:52,23-01-2020

Lukashenko henchman evades EU asset freeze


Yuri Sivakov, a man suspected of mass-scale money laundering for President Alexander Lukashenko, has been quietly left out of an EU asset-freeze on the Belarusian nomenklatura.

The new package of EU sanctions came into force on Wednesday (2 February) morning, when it was published as a legal document in Brussels' Official Journal.

The package contains a visa ban on 158 men and women implicated in December's crackdown on opposition and in previous abuses. It also contains a freeze on the EU financial assets of 157 of the names. Mr Sivakov is included in the visa ban. But he is the only one left out of the asset freeze.

The Russian-born 64-year-old, a former Belarusian interior minister, appeared on the EU radar in 2004 when a Council of Europe investigation said he was part of a "death squad" that murdered four dissidents.

He no longer holds office. But a leaked US cable from 2007 reports that in 2006 he ran a company called Chyest which laundered $1.5 million a day of bribery and extortion money via banks in Poland, Russia and the US on behalf of the Lukashenko cadre.

The then US ambassador in Minsk, Karen Stewart, citing sources inside the Belarusian secret police, the KGB, called the allegations "credible." Naming another former official working in Chyest, Dmitry Pavlichenko, she commented: "Both men truly owe their protection to their leader, President Lukashenko, on whose behalf they are suspected of committing heinous crimes."

US sanctions on Belarus include an asset freeze on Mr Sivakov. They also go further than the EU money-wise, with a trading ban on Belneftekhim, a petroleum firm which makes up a big chunk of Mr Lukashenko's income.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton (who signed off the EU sanctions on Monday) told EUobserver on Wednesday: "We are aware of it [the Sivakov omission] and we are looking into it. These lists are under constant review. They are suject to change in light of developments and new information."

An EU diplomatic source said choosing who to put on the list is "more of an art than a science" because of "tough working conditions" in Minsk.

Lukashenko incorporated

In terms of the EU visa ban, the new register covers President Aleksander Lukashenko and his two adult sons: Dmitri and Viktor. Thirty-year-old Dmitri is said in the EU documents to have "active participation in financial operations involving the Lukashenko family." He also runs the Presidential Sports Club and plays defence in a hockey team.

Interior minister Anatoliy Kuleshov was put on the EU list after he bragged on TV that he ordered the police to attack peaceful protesters on 19 December. Belarusian spy chiefs Victor Krashevski (in charge of foreign espionage), Vadim Zaicev (who runs the KGB) and Aleksei Zakharov (KGB counter-intelligence) have also been added.

Surgeon general Viktor Sirenko was put on the list after telling Belarusian media that opposition leader Vladimir Neklyayev, who was beaten half to death in the street and later kidnapped from his hospital bed, was "completely healthy" and declined hospitalisation.

The 158-strong list puts Belarus in third place in the league of EU travel ban countries.

Burma tops the table with over 400 names. EU neighbour Belarus is sandwiched between African countries Zimbabwe (197 names) and Guinea-Conakry (67). The rest of the league includes Iran, Liberia, former Yugoslav war crime fugitives, Congolese arms traders, Russian-backed rebels in Moldova, Ivory Coast coup chiefs and North Korea, among others.