Belarus: Lukashenko’s friends in Brussels
20 March 2012
Even as President Alexander Lukashenko becomes increasingly cruel — with two men recently executed for the 2011 bombing in the Minsk metro — the EU capital is seeing an unprecedented level of lobbying on his behalf, reports the EUobserver.
Mid-level diplomats will this week discuss who else to add to the Belarus sanctions list when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Friday (23 March). EUobserver understands the provisional roll-call includes oligarch Yuriy Chizh, several companies owned by another regime billionaire, Vladimir Peftiev and a handful of officials.
Peftiev is already under a visa ban and asset freeze, along with three of his firms – a decision he is currently fighting in the EU court in Luxembourg. "You wouldn't believe how many [people] have come through here," a senior EU official told this website on the queue of NGOs, diplomats and companies telling him in recent weeks why Peftiev should be let off.
The official, as well as other sources, such as Ales Michalevic, a dissident who fled Belarus last year, says that Peftiev has put up a $1 million reward for anybody who can get him de-listed. "I have not seen any evidence that Peftiev should be on the list. It's the police, the KGB, and the judges that should be on it," a contact from one Prague-based 'anti-Lukashenko' NGO told this website. A Brussels-based 'anti-Lukashenko' NGO recently sent a letter to EU officials containing 25 names – including Peftiev – of people who it says were put on the register unjustly.
This website is not publishing their names because it is possible that the individuals who put distributed the list came under pressure to do the dirty work. EUobserver also contacted Lawin, the Lithuanian law firm which represents him in the EU court, about the $1 million bounty, but it declined to confirm or deny the information. Chizh has a large array of businesses ranging from petrochemicals to health spas and soft drinks, many of which are active in EU countries.
Peftiev's conglomerate is more sinister. Peftiev is the majority shareholder and chairman of Beltechexport, the country's largest weapons manufacturer. It makes aircraft, armoured vehicles and small arms. But its main business is to act as a middleman between Russian arms firms and dictators in Africa, Central Asia, south-east Asia and South America. The US says it has sold weapons to Iran and North Korea.