“I’m not going to confess to a crime I didn’t commit. I am not ashamed, because I did not do any illegal actions. “ It is with these words that the Belarusian opponent Viktor Babaryko concluded his intervention, during his trial, Monday, June 28, in Minsk, to the applause of his supporters. Deemed a political prisoner by human rights organizations, the 57-year-old former banker is accused of receiving bribes worth around 12 million euros when he was in charge Belgazprombank, Belarusian subsidiary of a bank belonging to the Russian giant Gazprom. The prosecution requested fifteen years in prison, the maximum penalty. Seven other suspects, who pleaded guilty and testified against him after agreeing to an agreement with investigators, face lighter sentences, from three to six and a half years in prison.
Mr. Babaryko, him, has always proclaimed his innocence and denounces a political trial linked to his candidacy for the presidential election of August 9, 2020. At the head of Belgazprombank for twenty years, until May 2020, he had successfully launched in politics to participate in the poll. He had collected more than 430,000 signatures to validate his candidacy – four times more than necessary – to the point of appearing as the main rival of Alexander Lukashenko. His rise was abruptly halted just before the election. Accused of corruption and money laundering, he was arrested in June 2020 and thrown in prison, like all the other rivals of the autocrat who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994.
Mr. Babaryko’s closest advisor, Maria Kolesnikova, had taken up the torch after Mr. Babaryko’s imprisonment, before being in turn imprisoned, in September 2020, having refused to go into exile. A month earlier, Mr. Babaryko’s first lawyer, Maksim Znak, was arrested. The second, Alexander Pylchenko, had meanwhile had his professional status withdrawn and had abandoned the case. Mme Kolesnikova is now accused of “Plot to seize power,” announced the Belarusian prosecution on Friday. His period of pre-trial detention, extendable up to eighteen months, is regularly extended pending his trial.
“The criminal prosecution and detention of Babaryko, his relatives, friends and former colleagues were not used to resolve the investigation (…), but have become a tool of discrimination based on political opinion, and a means of excluding Babaryko from the electoral process ”, pleaded the opponent’s lawyer, Natalia Matskevich, during the debates. Judgment is expected on July 6.
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