Cable: Belarus leader tied to crime

Leaked cables give an unsettling view of Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, who’s dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”.

The scenes following Lukashenko’s 2006 election were similar to the ones before and after Monday’s vote [File: EPA]

A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks gives a disturbing view of the level of corruption, coercion and violence in Belarus. The violence is directly or indirectly connected to the president, who was recently re-elected to a fourth term in a widely discredited poll.

Released on Tuesday, just one day after the Belorussian presidential election, the February 2007 memo connects Alexander Lukashenko, the winner of Monday’s vote, to organised crime:

A Russian-based internet newspaper has been publishing a series of reports on alleged criminal rackets organised and/or headed by Lukashenko’s former Minister of Interior Sivakov and commander of the President’s personal special forces unit Pavlichenko. Reliable Embassy contacts asserted that the allegations are true and provided more details on the corrupt dealings of these notorious characters.

Indeed, the cable confirms what was reported in the Belaruskiy Paritizan in late 2006 in stories that linked former members of government with money laundering, smuggling, the disappearance of opposition activists and more.

For example, in the course of its investigations, Belarussian KGB (BKGB) learnt that there was around $500m in dirty money sitting in various accounts, some belonging to Audrey Shirai, the director of pro-government veterans association, Chyest (which was headed by Yuri Sivakov, the former sports and tourism minister).

But then the US cable details that Shirai had close ties to the BKGB and that the money he was laundering came from Colonel Dmitry Pavlichenko, who ran a death squad, allegedly operating directly under Lukashenko’s command.

Pavlichenko is also said the be the main source of “protection” for businesses and individuals, provided they continued to bribe him for his services – a shakedown operation the leaked cable classified as being “GoodFellas Style” in reference to the chillingly violent 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia movie.

Now, knowing about Pavlichenko is key as it says much about how Lukashenko – or at least those working under his command – have dealt with opposition in the past. Pavlichenko was arrested on November 22, 2000 on charges that, according to the arrest warrant (detailed in a 2004 Council of Europe’s Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights report) included the “abduction and elimination of people” – opposition politicians, especially.

Pavlichenko was freed the next day on Lukashenko’s orders.

The 2007 cable, prepared by Karen Stewart, who was the US envoy in Belarus at the time, chillingly concludes:

The allegations against Sivakov and Pavlichenko seem credible, given that both men have notorious reputations as criminals and, in Pavlichenko’s case, as murderers. The facts will likely never be fully revealed, given the obvious political sensitivities and the depth of corruption in the regime. However, both men truly owe their protection to their leader, President Lukashenko, on whose behalf they are suspected of committing heinous crimes.

Lukashenko “clearly disturbed”

Monday’s presidential election was marked as controversial, questionable votes typically are: preceded by protesters being violently beaten by riot police and followed by severe crackdown on opposition candidates.

Al Jazeera’s complete coverage of the leaked files

But just days prior to Lukashenko’s victory, WikiLeaks had released yet another document, dating back to March of 2006, when Lukashenko had been elected for his third term as president.

The cable described the “clearly disturbed” Lukashenko giving “bizarre” answers at a press conference following his victory speech.

The cable includes some questions asked by the journalists as well as Lukashenko’s answers.

In one case, the Belorussian president told a Ukrainian journalist that the only facts he or she needed to report were the ones he was providing at the news conference.

Lukashenko also told a BBC reporter that the protesters denouncing his victory were “14 and 15-year-olds who were paid … $10 to participate” and that God had sided with the government by casting a snow storm upon the protesters.

When another journalist asked him about his promise to “wring the necks of opponents”, Lukashenko quipped, “I see your neck is all right, just as everyone else’s. So do not be concerned.”

The audience laughed.

This cable might give a grim view of what’s to follow after Monday’s poll, which yielded  a predicted landslide win for incumbent Lukashenko – giving him his fourth term in office.

About 600 people have been arrested in recent days, 400 of which have already been given jail sentences of anywhere between five to 15 days.

Even more unsettling, seven of the nine presidential opposition candidates have been arrested and may face charges of “organising mass disorder”. If convicted they face up to 15 years in jail.  

Source: Al Jazeera