Saturday 7/24/21
BELARUS

Belarusian opposition politician sentenced to 14 years in prison camp

The Supreme Court in the capital Minsk sentenced former banker and prominent opposition figure Viktor Babariko for alleged money laundering, bribery and tax evasion
FILED - People walk in Minsk's Independence Square during a demonstration against Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko, carrying a banner with the photo of Viktor Babariko, who wanted to run against Lukashenko in the presidential election. Photo: Ulf Mauder/dpa
People demonstrate in Minsk's Independence Square carrying a banner with the photo of Viktor Babariko. Photo: Ulf Mauder/dpa/File photo.

More than a year after his arrest, prominent opposition figure Viktor Babariko has been sentenced to 14 years in a prison camp in Belarus.

The Supreme Court in the capital Minsk sentenced the former banker on Tuesday for alleged money laundering, bribery and tax evasion. Babariko had denied the charges.

The 57-year-old was considered the most promising opponent of long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko ahead of last year's presidential election.

Then on June 18, 2020 - just weeks before the August poll - he was jailed.

Babariko's arrest came as he was with his son on his way to the election commission to hand over signatures for his candidacy.

Lukashenko had openly called on the authorities to take action against his challenger.

Babariko denies the allegations and calls his trial, which was met with international condemnation when it opened in February, an attempt to silence him.

The former banker is one of more than an estimated 400 political prisoners in the former Soviet republic.

The August election, widely seen as rigged to re-elect Lukashenko, sparked mass protests in Belarus, with hundreds of thousands of people participating.

Tens of thousands were temporarily arrested, hundreds injured and several killed.

A 'rascal' to Lukashenko

Babariko's arrest came after Lukashenko ordered raids on the bank he had headed, Belgazprombank, a lender that is a subsidiary of Russia's state-owned Gazprom, on suspicion illegal practices were taking place.

At the time Lukashenko called Babariko a "rascal" who would not succeed in playing the role of victim or political prisoner.

The jailing was denounced in the West, particularly by the European Union, on the assumption it was carried out to help Lukashenko maintain his grip on power.

Lukashenko has ruled for a quarter of a century and is often referred to as Europe's last dictator. The European Union no longer recognizes him as the country's legitimate leader.

Comments