Investigation: Serbian associates of Alexander Lukashenko escape western sanctions
A recent investigation by Belarusian journalists abroad sheds light on fraternal relations between a Serbian oligarch under Western sanctions and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, as well as plans to circumvent sanctions over Cyprus, an EU member state.
The award-winning Belarusian Investigative Center, which was based outside the country after its crackdown in July 2021, in cooperation with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), released numerous details and documents proving the possessions of the Serbian Karić family. as well as links to Mr. Lukashenko.
friends of dictators
The Karić brothers – Bogoljub and Dragomir – first made themselves known as the godfathers of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Her friendship with Mr. Lukashenko has brought hugely lucrative benefits to her operations in Belarus, where she has undertaken several large real estate projects through her company Dana Astra and wreaked urban havoc in Minsk.
Bogoljub Karić, a businessman and politician who even ran for the presidency of Serbia, was accused of tax evasion and money laundering in Serbia and fled to Belarus, where he received a Belarusian passport in 2010. After Serbian authorities dropped the case, he was able to return home. But now his business is flourishing in his adopted country.
Dragomir, Bogolyub’s brother, was a long time honorary consul of Belarus in Belgrade and chairman of a parliamentary friendship group with Belarus.
In 2009 he welcomed Mr Lukashenko to a popular Serbian tourist destination, Kopaonik. Dragomir met with Mr. Lukashenko more often than other members of the Karić family.
His last appearance was in December 2021 when Dragomir praised Mr Lukashenko and called him “its presidentand say: “Many Western companies still work indirectly with Belarus via third countries. Because business is like water: you can’t stop it, it always finds its way».
Over the past ten years, the Karić brothers have grown into one of the largest real estate developers in Belarus, embezzling more than 170 million euros across borders thanks to this cordial relationship with Alexander Lukashenko. Furthermore, the latter’s daughter-in-law Liliya, who was married to her eldest son Viktar Lukashenko, worked for Serbian businessmen and was seen with them in several seaside resorts.
Lukashenko even issued decrees exempting the Karić brothers from the mandatory land auction process – which cost taxpayers $1 billion, according to the OCCRP. And contrary to the norm, the taxpayer had to foot the bill for infrastructure like water, electricity and roads.
To make matters worse, Alexander Lukashenko exempted the Karić business from some other taxes, letting his friends roam freely and make huge profits.
In December 2020, the EU and the UK sanctioned the companies Dana Holdings (Cyprus) and Dana Astra (Belarus) founded by the Karić brothers. In August 2021, the United States named the Karić family “Mr. Lukashenko’s construction portfolioand sanctions imposed.
The sanctions were aimed at Bogoljub Karić’s son Nebojsa and the companies Dana Holdings, Dana Astra, Emirates Blue Sky and Dubai Water Front. For his part, Bogoljub Karić was sanctioned by the EU in June 2022 for supporting Mr Lukashenko’s regime and benefiting from that affiliation.
Bypass the sanctions
The EU announced the sanctions on December 17, 2020, but just two weeks earlier, Dana Holdings had sold the five Cypriot companies to a company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Enterprise Developments Holding – a deal that international experts say has amounts to money laundering.
To avoid sanctions, Dana Holdings sold the Cypriot companies to Enterprise Developments Holding in the United Arab Emirates for EUR 700 million, which matched expert estimates of the true value of their assets in Belarus. However, the book value of the five companies was only €21,550, which is 30,000 times less than the actual value.
The transaction therefore enabled Dana Holdings to realize a profit of 700 million euros. Unsurprisingly, at the end of 2020, there was still no real money. Instead, the win was reported as “other demands‘, allowing Dana Holdings to withdraw significant cash from their accounts.
According to OCCRP experts, this transaction represents “any signs of money laundering“. First, Dana Holdings had sold the companies just before the sanctions were announced. Second, the controlling stake in the companies was transferred from Cyprus to the United Arab Emirates. Third, the UAE beneficiaries are linked to the Karić family. And finally, the experts are adamant: The transaction has unlocked the Karić family’s ability to continue receiving dividends despite the sanctions.
«The idea was to create a paper trail of the money that would allow them to legally access that €700 million. It’s important because banks want to know where the money is coming from so they can declare it came from a sale… They automatically access €700 million in a country where they are not sanctioned and receive dividends from it ignore the wealth they havesaid legal accountant Abdulwaḥed Alobaly.
The Belarusian Investigative Center also found that the Karić family is still safe from property sanctions, including in Western Europe.
Thanks to Transparency International UK, it has been established that the Karić brothers own seven apartments in central London, registered in the name of Dejan Lazarević – Bogoljub’s son-in-law.
Mr. Lazarević uses offshore companies to own the real estate. Company documents show that Mr. Lazarević is a “Politically Exposed Person».
In an international comparison, this should serve as a wake-up call for financial organizations and regulators, as politically exposed persons can exercise corrupting influence because of their status and authority.
The research authors contacted the Karić family for comment.
A lawyer for the family responded by stating that the allegations “unfoundedand asked to delay the post for three weeks so he could prepare a comment. The authors of the investigation gave him a week without responding, but said they are ready to release the Karićs’ official statement separately once they receive it.
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