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GUBOPiK Hijacks Business In Favour Of Lukashenka Family's Close People

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GUBOPiK Hijacks Business In Favour Of Lukashenka Family's Close People
ILLIA VOLAKH

Confessions of a Belarusian businessman.

Belarusian businessman, director of the construction company Zhilstroykomplekt LLC Illia Volakh contacted the editorial office of Charter97.org. He was sentenced in absentia to ten years for alleged "abuse of power" in Belarus.

The authorities claim that Illia Volakh caused "huge property damage" to equity holders during the construction of houses of the Hrusheuski Pasad residential complex in Minsk.

In an interview with Charter97.org, Illia Volakh told his version of the events. As it turned out, GUBOPiK (Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption) had a hand in the bankruptcy of his business, and Dzmitry Baskau, a hockey player close to Lukashenka, an accomplice in the murder of opposition activist Raman Bandarenka, received one of the locations in the center of Minsk that belonged to the businessman.

GUBOPiK "nightmares" business, according to Illia Volakh.

– The verdict was predictable, but still extremely unpleasant. The case has been underway since 2020. For four years, I was charged with everything: the withdrawal of capital from the country, money laundering. A million inspections were carried out. As a result, I was tried for 'abuse of power'. I was sentenced to 10 years, the financial director Aliaksandr Zaitsua to 7" said Illia Volakh.

– Briefly about my company. It was founded in Kobryn in 2000 by me and my father. In 2006, my father died, and I was left alone. The business was developing, we had already become developers. We were building the Hrusheuski Pasad in Minsk. However, this is only one of the ten projects we were running at the time. The number of employees in the company at the peak was more than 500 people.

– Your criminal case is connected with the Hrusheuski Pasad. There is information in open sources that allegedly you built two houses in this residential complex, the construction of the third house was stopped, the construction of the fourth did not begin. Is that true?

– We built four lines from the entire large complex, we still have two more lines left. Two complexes were under construction. One was built at 94-95%, even according to estimates of the West Capital Construction Management [the developer, to whom the authorities subsequently transferred the object - Ed.].

We painted the facades, entrances, and prepared the complex for commissioning. An admissions committee was established. But the entry of the object was blocked by the authorities.

– Why?

– This was a consequence of the GUBOPiK war against me. This was the reason.

– How did this war start?

– In 2017, Lieutenant Colonel Aliaksandr Zhyvliuk from GUBOPiK came to my office. He invited me to his place and spent six hours telling me about my business. Who I am, what I am, where I have things to do, what I do. He talked long and hard. Then Zhyvliuk said that we have common acquaintances, that we need to put one of them in jail.

He showed me paper documents with information about a KGB officer who at that time came to our office with various requests for business needs, and we provided some documents for his review. Zhyvliuk said "let's put him in jail", to which I replied that I did not mind, you might put him in jail, I just did not understand what this had to do with me. I said that I was engaged in construction and would like to continue my work.

Then Zhyvliuk named my acquaintances with whom I had business phone conversations. He said that it was necessary to imprison Viktar Kuchynski, who had been a "deputy" and then an assistant to Lukashenka for 18 years. I knew him well. Zhyvliuk said that Kuchynski's wife is the Deputy Minister of Ecology, "she is violent ", and Kuchynski himself needs to be sent to prison.

Perhaps he heard some conversations, calls. After leaving politics, Kuchynski did some business with me.

I told Zhyvliuk that I could not help him with it. He strained me for a long time and stubbornly. He demanded perjury be written on these people by me, and he gave several other names.

And then I asked my acquaintances to contact Zhyvliuk's boss and say that if GUBOPiK has no complaints about me, their subordinate should just leave me alone. Like, if I'm guilty of something, then let's find out. I am ready to answer at any time of the day or night for any of my deeds and actions. Then Zhyvliuk disappeared for a year, he left me alone. He came back in 2018 and said that I was over.

I had a legal deputy. He was arrested on the doorstep of my office for some third-party businesses that had nothing to do with me.

I was made a witness in this case, as he was my deputy. Already known to us Zhyvliuk was the investigator who carried out the arrest. Later I learned that GUBOPiK put pressure on my deputy and forced him to testify against me.

Previously, Zhyvliuk could not come to my office, and after this criminal case, they began to come to me, arrest property and put significant pressure. They started watching me.

– What do you mean by "put pressure"?

– GUBOPiK enforcers came to the meetings in all the offices that I have in Kobryn and Minsk One day and at the same time. They conduct searches, seizures. This was in 2018.

There was no reason: I was a witness in some case, to which had no relation at all, zero. The Department of Financial Investigations conducted about 20 audits. They tried to find a withdrawal of capital, looked for something linked to Poland — they found nothing. Because there were no sins behind me. I openly said: if there are mistakes in business — I am ready to pay any fine, just leave me alone.

At the beginning of 2019, I was summoned to GUBOPiK office. They said: "This time we have already prepared thoroughly." I replied: "I understand, well done, you still have nothing on me, because my business is totally clear." They said that they needed the deputy governor of the Brest region or his son and demanded dirt on them.

For 20 years, I have had quite a lot of acquaintances: from mayors to ministers. What could I give them? I had nothing to say against these people. GUBOPiK kept me for another two hours, some kind of boss came and tried to persuade me to testify. They said they would "reduce me to dust".

The ultimate beneficiary is a hockey player from Lukashenka's entourage

– And then the problems with the Hrusheuski Pasad began?

– Yes, we came to any authority to get the simplest permission, approval of the project, and GUBOPiK and Zhyvliuk had already visited them before us. Everyone was scared. He personally went to all the services and administrations of Minsk and Brest region, where there could be at least some interests of my business, threatened and intimidated officials and civil servants, demanded the imposition of fines, refusals of all approvals and decisions, seizure of land plots issued to me on the basis of auctions. He exerted pressure on the chairs of executive committees, their deputies, which I know directly from these people.

Wherever we were, in any office where we were asked to allow the construction to continue, we did not receive an ordinary document that was signed within a week. The last document, the commissioning of the finished object, was refused to us eight times. The construction site is standing, people are standing, the company is blocked, and you are simply not allowed to work.

– And what happened to the co-investors' money?

– The authorities made a decision, took the object, handed it over to the developer of the Capital Construction Department (UKS). There is an object worth 10 million dollars, 10,000 meters for 1200 — 12 million dollars a house. They took it away, and left the lawsuits to me.

They took $10 million from me and said: "Give the money to the co-investors, and we will sell everything to them again for $10 million." The case is like this. They blocked another 10 of our different locations. The money remained in construction.

– And what did they say to the equity holders? After all, they went out and recorded videos.

– They said that "now everything will be sorted out." While the UKS accepted and completed the first facility — one of the directors of the UKS was imprisoned for bribery or embezzlement.

How could I steal money? You checked everything in all kinds of ways. The State Control, the Financial Investigation Department, the Department for Fighting Against Economic Crimes, then again the State Control — and so on for three years. Zhyvliuk from GUBOPiK bombarded the FID with demands for inspections every two months. They did something new every time, but nothing happened. They couldn't find anything. In fact, this is such state racketeering.

Until 2023, I tried to find investors for Hrusheuski Pasad, while they had not yet adopted a decree on the transfer of the facility. Until 2023, everything could be completed and there would still be a couple of million in profits.

One of the plots that was taken away from us was bought at an auction by hockey player Dzmitry Baskau [a businessman close to Lukashenka's family, one of the participants in the attack on Minsk resident Raman Bandarenka, which led to his death - Ed.]. In the center of Minsk, we designed 80,000 square meters of housing. Only two million were spent on projects. Then they take it away from us, and Baskau completes it further.

– It turns out that your business was transferred to Lukashenka's people.

– A part of it, yes.

– In January this year, a film about you was released on the BT [state-owned media source - Ed]. The leader of it is the propagandist Anastasia Benedysiuk, who goes to the colonies and interrogates political prisoners. Why did they have such interest in your case?

– My opinion is that this film is a defeat of GUBOPiK. They also spied on me, installed a wiretap in my office. People took care of me from 2017 to 2024. What kind of success? Of the successes, only the crippled fates of co-investors. I am aware of this. Except it wasn't my fault.

I could finish this construction and earn a couple of million dollars at least. We were simply constantly refused to put the buildings into operation.

Is business still out of politics?

– On the example of this story, it is clear that they nightmare business in Belarus. Is this an ordinary workflow? Are other businessmen treated the same way?

– I thought that it would not affect me. I am a businessman of such a great level. We had an asset of $10 million, we could grow to $30-40 million by this year.

I saw other arrested businessmen and thought that they probably did something wrong. I thought it wasn't about me. But I was wrong. Underestimated the capabilities of the system.

– Why have you been silent for so long? After all, the persecution began in 2017, and now it is 2024.

– I didn't keep quiet. I asked my acquaintances to help. Through them, I wrote to the director of the OAC [Operational and Analytical Center under the Lukashenka Administration — Ed.] that the GUBOPiK put pressure on me, that I have hundreds of co-investors, that there will be troubles, that should no do it. The director of the OAC sent an operative to me, he came, listened, I was describing my case for two hours. He then said to me: "Let's get a record of a conversation with Zhyvliuk." I answer that I am a builder, I want to build, and you are to level him. And the employee of the OAC answered me that "This is not how the system works."

Then a person from the KGB called me and offered to transfer the business to him. “We will sort it out, and you will be sentenced to conditional discharge. Give us the company, and we'll figure it out." They called me three times. I said I'd think about it, and then I just sent them all. Some scavengers, they have such a business.

– You left Belarus in 2019. Why?

– I was afraid that ammunition and drugs would be planted. I know how GUBOPiK works, I know their methods, because I had friends who served there.

– You are now abroad, ten years in prison is not a threat. But the financial director of the company, Aliaksandr Zaitsau, was sentenced to seven years.

– He's just a fall guy. The person did not make any decisions. He is a Chief Finance Officer. He managed the accounting department. But they found that he allegedly received an additional salary. He slandered himself after his arrest. Obviously, Zaitsau cooperated very well with the investigation, he was promised a lot, as it usually happens, but he was imprisoned for seven years. He probably expected that he would be free from the courtroom and be happy.

– Did you offer Zaitsau to leave?

– A few years ago, when they began to call everyone for interrogation. He said we should leave. People who are in Belarus live in some kind of illusory world. I also thought that this would not affect me.

– This is your first interview in which you tell the circumstances of the case. I understand that all these years, since you have not publicly voiced your position, the shareholders of Hrusheuski Pasad have accumulated a lot of claims. You now have an opportunity to say something to these people.

– I thought that GUBOPiK would leave me alone, I would return to Belarus and continue to do my work. I had such a plan. It turned out that when I left, Zhyvliuk became even more active, blocking the work of the company everywhere. Hrusheuski Pasad is not the only project. We had about ten projects that they took away in different ways. The authorities wrote everywhere that I "took money and ran away", but there were many other projects where money was invested, work was carried out, salaries were paid.

We met with co-investors, with the initiative group, when I was already in Poland. A reasonable question: "Why aren't you here, why did you leave?" I say that there is Colonel Zhyvliuk and I can't come back. We tried to solve it remotely. We had assets, we sold them all in order to continue construction. We sold apartments, offices and everything that was there. It's not my fault, it's the system.

– Business has always tried to stay away from politics in Belarus. Why can't you just make money under a dictatorship?

– The business itself is arranged that way – "fence-sitting". I know how, relatively speaking, to sew boots — I will sew boots, you do not touch me, figure it out yourself. But then they come for you. There is an expression: if you are not engaged in politics, then it will deal with you. I remember it from my history teacher.

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