Opposing the most popular Belarusian president, Viktor Babaryko, who intended to run in the August 2020 presidential election against Alexander Lukashenko but had been arrested a few weeks before, was sentenced on Tuesday July 6 to fourteen years in prison for corruption. “Viktor Babaryko was sentenced to fourteen years in prison in a maximum security penal colony”, announced his support on the opponent’s Twitter account.
He was convicted of receiving bribes “In significant quantity” and for money laundering, specified the Belarusian NGO Viasna, which confirms this conviction of the Supreme Court. The fact that it was the Supreme Court that made this decision deprives Mr. Babaryko of the possibility of appealing.
He was also fined around 45,000 euros and banned from exercising managerial functions, according to a freelance journalist present at the hearing. The prosecution maintains that he committed these crimes when he was at the head of Belgazprombank, a Belarusian subsidiary of a bank belonging to the Russian giant Gazprom. Seven other former employees of this bank, who pleaded guilty and testified against Mr. Babaryko, were sentenced to terms ranging from three to six years in prison, according to this independent journalist.
The 57-year-old opponent was considered upon his arrest as Alexander Lukashenko’s most serious opponent in the presidential election. The former banker had collected more than 400,000 signatures to validate his candidacy for the presidential election – when it takes “only” 100,000. At the head of the Russian bank Belgazprombank until May 2020 and his launch into politics , Viktor Babaryko had known how to galvanize the crowds like, before him, the blogger Sergei Tsikhanovsky, who had qualified the president of “Cockroach”. Both are now behind bars.
The re-election of Mr Lukashenko sparked an unprecedented protest movement last summer that brought together tens of thousands of demonstrators for months. Mr Babaryko’s closest advisor, Maria Kolesnikova, was one of three female figures leading the protest after the arrests of several declared candidates. She was imprisoned after refusing to go into exile. The other two, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaïa, who became the face of the opposition, and Veronika Tsepkalo, fled the country.
The conviction of Mr. Babaryko comes in a climate of all-out lawsuits against opponents, NGOs and journalists. “We can build a country with humanist values where the individual will be respected”, had launched Mr. Babaryko at the end of June, during his trial, saying he believed in a “Happy, honest and open Belarus”.