On Tuesday, 6 April, Viktor Babariko, the only one of the eight defendants, who pleaded not guilty, was questioned in court in the case of the top managers of Belgazprombank. Babariko said that he and other defendants in the case were innocent.
Viktor Babariko said that his persecution was politically motivated, absolutely unreasonable and refused to testify, stating that the purpose of the process was not to establish guilt, to present evidence of guilt, but to justify his non-participation in the political process. Babariko who was widely seen as Lukashenko’s main rival for the presidential post recalled the development of the election campaign.
He noted that the bank passes internal and external checks many times. He believes that his former colleagues incriminated him under duress in the KGB pre-trial detention centre. Babariko claims that he is innocent and never took bribes. At the same time, he doubts the objectivity of the court and complained about the pressure of the authorities on him and on his relatives.
“It’s probably no secret that a separate curator of the State Security Committee is attached to each bank,” he said. Babariko expressed surprise that over the 20 years of the bank’s existence, the audit committee appointed by the shareholders, auditors, the board of directors, rating agencies, and external regulatory authorities did not pay attention to the scheme that the prosecution now refers to.
He said that in January 2020, an extraordinary audit of the National Bank ended at Belgazprombank took place. “It, to be honest, revealed violations,” the ex-banker said, adding that they were recognized as insignificant and the top management was allowed to receive remuneration for previous years of work.
“The investigative authorities question the professionalism and integrity of the entire control system in the banking sector and the professionalism of shareholders – let me remind you, these are Gazprom and Gazprombank,” he noted.
Babariko said that the claims brought against him during his detention in June 2020 are not currently subject to consideration.
“That is, the current accusation is based only on the voluntariness of the testimony given by the defendants in the KGB pre-trial detention centre. I understand that the KGB pre-trial detention centre contributes to bringing back memories and determining the perception of events. There was no organized criminal group. Everyone acted exclusively in the interests of the bank and on their own initiative.”
“I, of course, was very surprised that my former colleagues incriminated themselves and are trying to incriminate me. But I understand why they do this.
The pressure that is in the KGB pre-trial detention centre… I also had those conversations. I was even told with regret that physical torture is prohibited…
But having conversations for hours, and sometimes at night, is something. And this is not just about pressure on me, this is about pressure on my family and friends. Knowing that your children are in the KGB pre-trial detention centre is awful.”
He said that in the KGB pre-trial detention centre, prisoners are obliged to watch the “Panorama” program, which all this time reported about the guilt of the defendants. “It is difficult to resist powerlessness when you hear how much and at what level your guilt is predetermined. This fosters the urge to compromise.”
Babariko did not rule out that his decision to take part in the election campaign had a very significant impact on the lives of the defendants. “Someone’s career collapsed, some lost their business they have been building for many, many years. There could be some reasonable sentiment against me. If you look at the initial testimonies, you can see that they are truthful.”
Babariko said that the bank actually did startups: it invested money in companies and then “exit”.
“The main task for me as a leader was to make decisions based on economic feasibility and compliance with the law. The bank was interested in a startup to work. I don’t know why the people in this cage are giving up their fantastic intellectual potential, which they either tacitly or otherwise invested in the development of the startup.”
The ex-banker stressed several times that he could not make decisions singlehandedly. “The decision-making mechanism does not provide for any decision-making by one person, nor for making decisions that are economically inexpedient.”
He stressed that there is no evidence of his actions against the interests of the bank and receiving any compensation for this. Babariko believes that the only thing that can make defendants feel guilty is a conflict of interest, an action against the interests of an organization, that is, a bank. However, he explained that the bank took all necessary measures to avoid a conflict of interest.
He is confident that both the activities of the companies and the subsequent sale of shares in startups, exits, were completely legal.
“I very much sincerely doubt the objectivity of the trial. I perfectly understand the pressure that continues even now. You have heard the statements of Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Shved about the already established guilt. At this stage, I will not answer questions and give any explanations. I am convinced that what people are accused of and of which they confess, they are not guilty,” Babariko said.
“For a long time, I could not answer the question of whether I did the right thing on May 12 (when I announced my desire to stand as a candidate in the elections). There were consequences for my business, to which I gave 25 years, for people, for my son, for friends. But I know one thing, there was only one motive: I want to live in a country where the law prevails.”
People in the courtroom started clapping loudly, some were crying. The judge threatened to remove everyone from the courtroom. Further Babariko refused to answer questions.
Earlier today, the questioning of Viktor Kobyak, the founder of Activleasing, was finished. When asked whether there were legal grounds for the transfer of dividends by Activleasing in favour of Belgazprombank, he answered: “There were formal grounds for this. But in essence, this is a wrong decision. It was qualified by the Corruption Department of the Republic of Belarus. I realized this later.”
Viktor Babariko and Belgazprombank’s case
The trial of the Belgazprombank’s case and Viktor Babariko, Alexander Lukashenko’s main rival in the presidential election last August has begun on 17 February. The case is being considered by the Supreme Court in the Moskovsky district court building. For several hearings already, the press service of the Supreme Court refused to accredit journalists of the largest independent media – TUT.BY, Onliner, Nasha Niva, BelaPAN – to ensure publicity.
There are eight defendants in the Belgazprombank case. Viktor Babariko is accused of “laundering” funds obtained by criminal means and receiving a bribe in especially large amounts. Alexey Zadoiko (Belgazprombank’s former first deputy CEO), Kirill Baday (Belgazprombank’s acting chairman), Sergei Shaban (Belgazprombank’s Deputy CEO), Dmitry Kuzmich (Belgazprombank’s deputy CEO), Alexander Ilyasyuk (Belgazprombank’s deputy CEO), Sergei Dobrolet (Belgazprombank’s former deputy CEO) is accused of accepting a bribe in especially large amounts. Viktor Kobyak (founder of Activleasing LLC) is accused of giving a bribe in an, especially large amount.
Plea-bargaining agreements on cooperation have been concluded with Badey, Dobrolet, Kuzmich, Ilyasyuk, Shaban, and Kobyak. Viktor Babariko is not among them, therefore he is not at the preliminary court session today. The defendants, who entered into the plea agreements, stated in court that they volunteered to do so and fulfilled all the conditions. A team of more than ten lawyers are defending the accused, among them are Anna Keller, Maxim Ageev, Alexander Pavlovets, Sergei Buyakevich.
Justice is administered by Judge Igor Lyubovitskiy, he moved to the Supreme Court in October 2020, previously worked in the Minsk City Court. The state prosecution is presented by Sergei Gergel.