The brotherly relationship between a Serbian oligarch under Western sanctions and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and schemes to evade sanctions via EU member Cyprus are exposed in a survey recently published by Belarusian journalists based abroad.
The winner Belarusian Investigation Centerbased outside the country after a crackdown in July 2021, in partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published on Tuesday October 11 many details and documents attesting to the properties held by the Serbian Karivs family, as well as ties to Lukashenko.
friends of dictators
Karivs brothers – Bogoljub and Dragomir – first became known like Slobodan MiLosevic regime sponsors. Their friendship with Lukashenko has generated extremely lucrative benefits for their operations in Belarus, where they have delivered several major real estate developments through their company Dana Astra, wreaking havoc on urban planning in Minsk.
Bogoljub Karivsbusinessman and politician, who even ran for the presidency of Serbia, was accused of tax evasion and money laundering in Serbia and leak in Belarus, obtaining a Belarusian passport in 2010. After the Serbian authorities fall case, he was able to return home. But in the meantime, his business in Belarus has flourished.
Bogoljub’s brother, Dragomir, is a former honorary consul of Belarus in Belgrade and chairman of a Belarusian parliamentary friendship group.
His last appearance was in December 2021 when Dragomir praised Lukashenko, call him ‘its president’ and saying: “Many Western companies still work indirectly with Belarus via third countries. Because business is like water: you can’t stop it, it will find its way”.
Over the past ten years, the Karić brothers have become one of the largest property developers in Belarus and have embezzled more than 170 million euros across the border thanks to a warm relationship with Lukashenko, whose daughter-in-law Liliya Lukashenko, married to her eldest son Viktar, worked for businessmen and was seen with them at several resorts.
Lukashenko even issued decrees freeing the Karić brothers from the necessary land auction procedure – costing the taxpayer around $1 billion, according to OCCRP. And contrary to the norm, the taxpayer was forced to pay the bill for infrastructure such as water, electricity and roads.
To add insult to injury, Lukashenko exempted the Karić business from some other taxes, letting his friends roam free and make huge profits.
In December 2020, the EU and the UK sanctioned Karivs-founded Dana Holdings (Cyprus) and Dana Astra (Belarus). In August 2021, the United States labeled the Karić family as “Lukashenko’s construction portfolio » and followedt with penalties.
The sanctions targeted Bogoljub Karić’s son, Nebojsa, and the companies Dana Holdings, Dana Astra, Emirates Blue Sky and Dubai Water Front. Bogoljub Karić, in turn, was sanctioned by the EU in June 2022 for supporting the Lukashenko regime and benefiting from this affiliation.
Getting around the sanctions
EU announcement the sanctions on December 17, 2020, but just two weeks before, Dana Holdings had sold the five Cypriot companies to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company, Enterprise Developments Holding – a transaction that international experts consider money laundering .
To evade sanctions, Dana Holdings sold the Cypriot companies to Enterprise Developments Holding in the United Arab Emirates for 700 million euros, matching expert estimates of the real value of their Belarusian assets. However, the book value of the five companies was just €21,550 – 30,000 times lower than the real value.
The transaction thus provided Dana Holdings with a gain of €700 million. Unsurprisingly, at the end of 2020, real money was still not in sight. Instead, the gain was classified as “other accounts receivable,” allowing Dana Holdings to withdraw considerable cash from their accounts.
According to OCCRP experts, this transaction shows “all the signs of money laundering”. First, Dana Holdings had sold the companies just before the sanctions were announced. Second, the majority stake in the companies was transferred from Cyprus to the United Arab Emirates. Third, UAE beneficiaries are affiliated with the Karivs family. And finally, the experts are adamant that the transaction unlocked the Karić’s ability family to continue to receive dividends despite the sanctions.
“The idea was to create a paper trail of money that legally allows them to access this 700 million euros. It is important because the banks want to know where the money is coming from, so you can explain that it comes from a sale… Automatically they access 700 million euros in certain countries where they are not sanctioned , and receive dividends on the assets they hide.“, reportedly said forensic accountant Abdulwaḥed Alobaly.
The Belarusian Investigative Center also discovered that the Karić family is still safe from property sanctions, including in Western Europe.
Courtesy of Transparency International UK, it has been claimed that the Karićs own seven flats in central London and are registered with Dejan Lazarević – Bogoljub’s son-in-law.
Lazarević uses offshore companies to hold the real estate assets. Company documents reveal that Lazarević is a “politically exposed person”.
According international standardsthis should serve as a wake-up call for financial organizations and watchdogs, as politically exposed persons can have corrupting influence given their status and authority.
The authors of the research approached the Karić family for their comments.
A lawyer for the family responded, saying the allegations were “baseless” and asked to delay publication for three weeks so he could prepare a comment. The authors of the investigation gave him a week, during which he did not react, but said they were ready to publish the Karićs’ official press release separately as soon as they received it.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]