On April 6 Belarusians for the first time since June 2020 can hear the voice of Viktor Babariko – we publish an exclusive recording of Viktor’s speech at the «Belgazprombank case», as well as text decryption.
As to the substance of the charges, as well as my prosecution in general, I can say that, with regard to me, my son and my friends and loved ones, as well as my colleagues and partners, I consider all these criminal prosecutions and accusations to be totally unfounded, vehemently opposed and politically motivated. They do not seek to establish guilt, proof of that guilt. They serve only one purpose at the outset. Namely, my non-participation in the political process in this election of the President of the Republic of Belarus. That is what I have been talking about since the very beginning of the investigation, and I believe that the fact that I am being charged with a criminal offence is not that I have committed it, but that these are the political motives. And now, in court, I will try very briefly to cite the figures and facts that tell us exactly… and confirm that. Well, the case.
About working in the bank
I’ve been at the bank since 1995, I’ve been hired as a chief expert, and in five years, that is, since 2000 – I became chairman of the board of Belgazprombank this year. During these years, the bank from a small financial institution with a profit of 100 thousand dollars – in the twenty years that I managed and had the honour to manage this bank – has become the largest, one of the largest financial institutions of the Republic of Belarus, which in the last two years, namely 2018-2019, showed a profit of about $50 million. The results of the bank’s activities have been repeatedly recognized by international financial institutions and appraisers, as well as within the republic. I don’t really like to say this, but in recent years such a contest «Best Manager» of the banking system has been held. So, out of five such competitions, I became twice the best manager in the banking system of the Republic of Belarus.
On the 12th of May last year, I announced that I intended to stand as a candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Belarus. Based on what I felt, the experience and results that have been achieved in my work as a manager at Belgazprombank can be demanded in our country, and I offered different development options, as opposed to the existing system of some kind, a still-present, outdated, in fact, and still present-day, obsolete, quasi-socialistic, quasi-soviet system.
Judge: The accused, I’m going to suspend you. I wonder, but we’re looking at a specific case here as part of the indictment. Please explain the charges.
I think the motive for the charges… Similarly, if the prosecution says that, I quote, having the intention to…». Why is it permissible for the prosecution to do this, and for me – I say that the criminal prosecution «has intent on» – I am not allowed to tell, I am interrupted? None of the speakers are interrupted. So I would still like to say that this is all relevant to the prosecution in my view.
Judge: Your objection is understood, but please, stick to the charge. Continue.
Okay. So, as I said, this position remains… Not to go unnoticed, as well as, for the most part of civil society, which supported me, as well as one of the candidates at the time for the presidency, namely, Mr. Lukashenka, and that’s when the mechanism for our prosecution and, in general, the prosecution of the people who work with me was launched. Chronologically, I believe that the events were not relevant to the development of the criminal process, but the following were.
So, on May 12, I make a statement of my decision. Within a week, we register one of the largest groups of 10,000 people, if only 100 people need it. And on the 29th, that is only two weeks later, Mr. Lukashenka, at that moment the President of the Republic of Belarus, at the Minsk tractor plant, declares
that the financing of the campaign is the hand of the Kremlin from Russia and, in fact, begins the persecution of me as a person, and, accordingly, in the end, it will be what it is.
On the 31st, we’re making our declaration on fair elections, and on the 4th, I want to draw attention to that, on the 4th of June, our complaint about what’s going on at the CEC is being rejected. Mr. Lukashenka warns that a certain company, «Privatleasing», provided earnings in a cheating way specifically to me. I made my money fraudulently. This applies directly to today. In addition, this speech is used to intimidate Belarusian citizens about having forgotten, how opponents were dispersed in the former Soviet Union, and the promise to remind all those who have forgotten.
On the 5th of June, the following day, I speak in public of the inadmissibility of such actions and the inadmissibility of intimidation of the Belarusian people. And my visits to the regions of the Republic of Belarus are beginning. By the 8th, four days later, we had collected more than 150,000 signatures in support of my candidacy, indicating that the 100,000 barrier was almost over. On the 10th, the number of signatures was already around 300,000. On the same day, I want to pay attention once again, June 10, sounds actually an instruction of Mr. Lukashenka, which has no relation to judicial and procedural bodies (from the point of view of the legislation), «to sift the fat bourgeois». Well, uh, I must have been less of a fat bourgeois in nine months, but still.
(Laughter) Judge: Everyone in this room needs to be in order. Then I won’t know who’s breaking it, because there are so many of you here, I’m alone. To maintain order, if necessary, those present will be removed from the room. I hope everyone understood. Continue, please.
On the 11th, there’s been an arrest of 15 bank employees, my friends, and the Financial Investigation Department is filing a criminal complaint under articles 243 and 235 of the CC – please remember these articles. But I don’t have any charges against me, and I’m not really in the picture. In common sense, this is the Chinese warning that either one must leave the country or that one must in some way withdraw from political participation. This is confirmed by the fact that I’ve been a bank manager for quite some time, as you understand, I have many acquaintances, and I have received messages and calls about the fact that I will be arrested soon, thus, I have to do something.
On the same day, the 11th, I declare that the arrest is absolutely illegal, the funds that were taken from them do not belong to them, but to me. I also say that at any time, I am available to come to any place where I can testify. On 12 June, the day after the officers were detained, Mr. Tertel’s statement followed – a plot with a precise definition that I was involved in criminal cases.
Despite the fact that this is a direct accusation, I am not doing anything in terms of fleeing the country in order to influence witnesses in any way and to take any further illegal actions that would impede a normal fair trial.
On the 15th we submit more than 120,000 signatures to the election commission, which means, in fact, a solution to the problem of registering me as a presidential candidate of the Republic of Belarus. And on the 17th, actually, the day before I was arrested, actions – namely, the unwarranted seizure of our campaign accounts. And on the 18th, when it was announced that some 450,000 signatures had been collected, I’m being detained.
My detention takes place in a regime where, since I have not run away, because, in the house where I live, in the village, there are roads far enough to see, I have been told that there are waiting on these roads. I still thought it couldn’t be done, I was on my way to work. I was on my way to our headquarters, I was arrested. All my demands that I need a lawyer’s defense, that I didn’t resist but asked these people to introduce themselves, were actually ignored. I was taken to the FID, and I didn’t really know what it was or how, nor was I given the opportunity to talk to my lawyers or to make any statements. And I didn’t actually do anything. And, to sum up, I was placed in the KGB remand center a month and a half after my statement.
About non-registration as a candidate
As to the way forward. Despite this fact that I had no opportunity to influence the process in any way, on the 20th my lawyers and authorized staff members were… were able to apply to the CEC, the Central Election Commission. And on the 14th of July, the Central Election Commission declared that all requirements of the law – as part of the declaration of my property, in which I included the seizure of my friends’ funds, as well as all property and real estate, which I had registered and kept in the register of state registration – all true, the number of signatures is correct. But I’m not registered because there’s a letter from the State Control Committee. There are no restrictions or regulations in any legislation, such as a letter from the State Control as a result or as an argument not to register.
What I’m saying is that on the 18th, apart from me, on the same day my son was detained. Whose main fault, in fact, is that he is my son and my chief of staff or my chief of headquarters. He is still in pre-trial detention in the KGB remand center. Well, I don’t know what kind of investigation he’s in, but I think something’s going on.
It can thus be said that, after all the possible complaints have been filed, the Supreme Court, under what I think is a questionable pretext, that the time limits are not set in days, but in hours, refused to accept our complaints about non-registration. And I was finally taken out of this trial, and the next step is a very direct criminal case.
About the pre-trial charge
To make it clear, parallel to all these events, as I said, It is not enough that my detention was totally unfounded – I have already said, I never intended to hide or did anything to do so, nor did I obstruct any investigation. I hope that people have a better memory and you remember what the background was at the time when officials, state-owned media outlets were utterly accusing me, the bank staff, when not even what was in the investigation, there was no trial… Investigations had just begun, but already from television screens, it had been proven that Babariko and Belgazprombank had set up a billions-of-dollars international laundry.
In addition, when legitimate means were used – many people, authoritative people – I thank them very much for that, came as guarantors and came to the KGB to file a complaint – some of them were arrested. Some of them had been placed under administrative arrest, some of whom did not know whether they had been fined or not, but they had certainly been arrested and prosecuted.
About banking supervision
I shall conclude my argument by saying that the banking sphere is fairly tightly regulated in the Republic of Belarus. Moreover, it is not only regulated by internal, local acts on the activities of the bank. It is subject to the requirements of the law, which provides for an internal control service approved by the shareholders and not by the chairman of the board, an audit commission appointed by the shareholders, a committee of the board of directors on a permanent basis, Current and auditing activities. Risk, the risk committee. The Board of Directors itself holds regular meetings and shareholders’ meetings. But on the part of external control bodies as well, control is carried out continuously. Always on the side of the National Bank, the State Control Committee.
I think it’s not going to be a big secret that every bank has a separate handler from the State Security Committee
In addition, the bank undergoes annual procedures in an international audit company, Belarusian audit companies, and rating. Belgazprombank was rated, as a rule, always one of the best. Belgazprombank was rated, as a rule, always one of the best. You could say, always the best in terms of ratings.
I would like to say that the whole or most of the control procedures are not even performed on a regular monthly basis, but on a regular daily basis. There are a lot of daily reports.
And for 20 years, under such a control system – both shareholders and external entities – no violations were found in Belgazprombank, which might even hint at prosecution, let alone corruption or some other element.
I want to say the amazing thing is that in January the special – I stress, the special – audit of the National Bank ended in January of the 20th year, which, as always (no work without irregularities), revealed irregularities. However, these irregularities were not significant, and Belgazprombank’s managers were allowed to receive bonus payments based on previous years’ performance. Thus, in making the accusation that you have just heard, the investigative bodies, in my view, call into question the professionalism and integrity of the entire control system in the banking system of the Republic of Belarus and the professionalism of the shareholders of the control systems. Just in case I will remind you that shareholders are Moscow Gazprombank and «Gazprom». I mean, for 20 years now, all of these bodies have had no way of finding, you might say, a deep-rooted system like this, but the investigating authorities, by arresting everyone, have been right.
About denying the allegations
On the basis of all the above, I would like to reiterate that I categorically deny this accusation, and I believe that the whole purpose of the prosecution is precisely not to uncover a real crime, that is to eliminate and discredit me as a real competitor to the President of the Republic of Belarus back then.
It was aimed at obstructing my political opinion, which was not only at variance with that of the incumbent President at the time but was supported by a large part of civil society in the Republic of Belarus. To sum up the above, I can say that before I went into the political field of the Republic of Belarus, there were no claims, even I say more, not just an exit, and before the 18th June there were no claims against me, no criminal charges were brought against the people in this cage, and no criminal charges were filed before the 11th, respectively, for them, and until the 18th for me.
The charges that were brought against me at the time of my arrest have not even been considered to date. That is, they have formed already in the period when all the people here were detained in the KGB remand prison. This criminal prosecution is based solely on the voluntariness of the statements made by individuals in the KGB remand prison. I understand that the KGB remand prison helps to enlighten memory and form the right ones, but I never thought that the 1930s could be seen here.
On that basis, I categorically reject these accusations and disagree with them. Why? Because there was no organized criminal group. Everyone here testifies that they acted solely in the interests of the bank and solely on their own initiative. I did not initiate the establishment of any foreign companies, nor did I give any foreign companies any commands or controls that were contrary to the law. I was not the owner of the money in question, which was present in the indictment. I have never imposed any illegal conditions of cooperation on any economic entity or personal…
I have never given instructions to any bank or other person to commit any wrongdoing, nor have we heard any speaker here saying that I should do something in exchange for a reward, much less to the detriment of the bank.
I’ve never received a bribe, not under the guise of dividends, not in any other form. I have never acted in the interests of anyone other than Belgazprombank, and consequently against the interests of the service. As I said, on the contrary, my actions – the result of Belgazprombank’s activities – have been directed to the development of this institution.
I was, of course, very surprised when I read the testimony, and a little bit more – when I listened to my former colleagues incriminate themselves and try to incriminate me, but that I understand. I understand why this is done because of the pressure that comes from the KGB remand prison, it’s, well, in fact, I’ve been having those exact same conversations and I know what happened. One time I heard one of the investigators say with regret in his voice that, you know, physical torture is prohibited.
About pressure in the KGB remand prison
I understand, of course, that physical torture is prohibited – thank God. But talking continuously for hours, sometimes even at night, is also a story. As part of these unprocessed conversations, I think that each one of them was not only pressured. Pressure turned out, including on their loved ones. I can tell you that it’s probably not the best story to know that your kids are in the KGB remand prison.
Information attacks by the State Security Service, which have been conducted continuously. And you know, so amazing, in the KGB remand prison, as it turned out, prisoners are obliged to watch «Panorama». You must! Just in case. On what basis, I don’t really know. But if you remember what is shown in «Panorama»… So! I don’t really think of myself as a strong-willed man. But to resist absolute impotence, when you hear constantly at what level and to what extent guilt is predetermined, naturally there is a desire to make some kind of compromise to minimize the terrible consequences that talk about on the television screen.
Moreover, I am almost certain that they were misled as to the number of damages that might have been awarded under the charges against them.
I would not rule out that, in this state, my statement and decision to put forward and the consequences that were actually caused by this decision have had a very significant impact on the fate of these people. Those whose careers have collapsed during the course of – a successful, one of the best careers in the banking system of the Republic of Belarus with a very good one, I would emphasize – legal – compensation for the work they have done. Someone’s business that we’ve heard about that they’ve been building for years and years was ruined. And so, I suppose, some well-founded moods against me… that is, the mechanics confuse cause and effect. I mean, quite possibly.
And if you look at it, if you listen to the initial confessions, what we see is that most of them actually contain truthful information.
And the true information is as follows. I’ll tell you briefly, we’ve talked about it. The DELAY project is a group of companies, we call it that, it’s a classic startup. Now it’s very fashionable when people with nothing on their shoulders come to other people and say: «I have an idea». It’s an idea that’s grown, spoken, nurtured, done, consult. And I really like it: «What did you do? You all listened and nodded in silence.» You know, an expert opinion can even be expressed in silence. When a smart person tells you something, you just nod: «Yes, cool». It’s called an expert opinion. You don’t even have to do anything. You had smart people who thought you were worthy of telling you things, told you. You didn’t disagree – they knew they were doing the right thing.
I think it’s a classic startup story. Not only that, the bank has been involved in this startup from the beginning. That is, the role of the bank for the group of companies DELAY – I emphasize, without us, it would not exist. For someone who knows the origin of any business, finding such a partner is expensive. At the start, as I said, money is not the most important goal for any startup. Intellectual stability is important for any startup. I don’t know why the people in this cell are giving up their fantastically awesome intellectual potential, which they have either silently or otherwise invested in this startup.
It was said here that the initiative came from Mr. Selyavko, a member of the board of directors, a body that establishes shareholders. It wasn’t management who took the initiative. It was a member of the board of directors. And the mechanism proposed by that person was not illegal. On the contrary, it was clearly stated: this history of ownership and income from legal business.
What else do I have to say? You have heard that all the mechanisms within which Belgazprombank operates have been created recently and have only been tightened. As a leader, my main task was to establish mechanisms to ensure that decision-making was done solely within the bounds of economic soundness and compliance with the law. No person in the bank can make a decision or form a positive decision on any issue. It is a mechanism for the collegial adoption of these decisions.
There is, as I said, no evidence of my instructions to do anything against the interests of the bank and to receive any rewards in return. In all the testimonies, everyone talks about ownership shares in businesses.
Further. The only point that can give people guilt is that notorious conflict of interest. Now let me tell you what a conflict of interest is. Conflict of interest is when you do something against the interests of the organization you work for. None of these people said that they were guided in their decisions by the interests of DELAY companies, «Activlizing», still a blast of a company. All of them were guided by the interests of Belgazprombank. There is no first sign of a conflict of interest.
Then I will recall that the proposal was made, the mechanism proposed, by a member of the board of directors. Until 2014, and the proposal was made to follow the material, sometime in the seventh or eighth year, there was no such thing as a conflict of interest or an instrument to regulate it. There was a norm of ethical and moral notice to shareholders and the board of directors. Tell me, please, when a board member proposes to you, do you think he notified or did not? Every single person has to go up to every board member and say, «You know, here’s an offer for me». And in the 14th year, when the Code of Corporate Ethics was adopted, and coincidentally, in the 15th incident with Sergei Mikhailovich, none of these people said. I’m the one who said that even the story that was once voiced somewhere has to stop.
So, it was my initiative, and I don’t think anyone’s disputed it.
Now imagine stepping in any startup «exhaust» (fashionably now called: «exit»). If there was a start, there is an exit. In 2015-2016, the DELAY group of companies, I think, was very expensive because it was said, if memory serves, to bring in up to five million dollars of annual profit. So the shares that my colleagues mentioned here, believe me, are worth some money. And so I don’t know, of course, the machinery and everything, but from my point of view, the sale. How it happened, this sale, I don’t know. But there were, according to this, some kind of ownership that people through some companies and then the mechanisms of selling these companies and there should be some compensation.
Why it is illegal, I also do not have much idea how, and what, and why these «exits» are considered a crime – that is, when people sell their house and get a reward for it.
As for the company «Privatleasing» for the bank and two companies DELAY for the bank, they were one of the top companies, for us, it is the top 20. I can say in a surprising way, even the same conflict-of-interest reporting that was required, every year, the board of directors was attended by managers, each of whom was on the board of directors. And every year we talked about our relationship with Belgazprombank, with the group DELAY, and the successes that they brought to Belgazprombank. Therefore, even performance reporting to the board of directors is present.
As for the company «Activlizing», I find it difficult to say anything about their entrances, exits, what conditions and everything else. From my perspective, from the stories I’ve heard, it’s the same story, the classic story of a startup. The company that was worth zero – well, two thousand it was worth, turns out it’s now worth three million. Great, good. I mean. How the «exhaust» mechanism happens and everything else is another story. But the very fact of growing a company from the ground up to this size in a perfectly legitimate way, in my view, is not a crime.
But, again, in the KGB remand prison, the owner of this company had an enlightenment, and he realized that the fair value of the company paid was a bribe. Well… I don’t know.
Another episode we have heard is «Marconstroy». In fact, I can hardly imagine here when everyone realizes that there is nothing in a bank that depends on one person, whatever that person is: Vice Chairman, Chairman of the Board. People give a man, he says, some money to make a decision. Well, I don’t know, the money was given, well, the decision was made on a client who was, as it was said, a super-necessary decision for the bank. The loans have been returned, everything else where the bribes are, the basis on which people give such money… I don’t know if they give it away or not. I will stress again – the mechanics of providing credit in Belgazprombank does not imply any decisions made either by one person or by an economically unjustified decision.
And another episode – 16, October St. In this room, I’m almost sure everyone knows what the Belgazprombank «OK16» project is. How important it was (unfortunately, it seems to have been) to the Republic, what remarkable cultural projects were realized. And in general, Belgazprombank has made a lot of great projects, starting from the restoration of the heritage of our Belarusian artists, the development of theater business, creation of a cultural cluster.
I can say, I do not deny, I was very interested in October Street developing in the direction set by Belgazprombank. So, of course, I had a lot of meetings with people who were willing to invest in the development of the street to our concept. But I don’t really understand where criminal money laundering came from. Because I don’t have any criminal money, and I certainly couldn’t launder it because it’s not my money.
In fact, given what is happening, even in this courtroom – I may very well be the High Court – I do not wish to offend anyone, but I very sincerely doubt the fairness of the trial. You know. Because I totally get the pressure that goes on even now. You heard both before and during the trial statements by Mr. Lukashenko, Mr. Shved, about the already established guilt and about what to do, who to – well, you can imagine. I mean, I understand that pressure on decision-making is not just for the people in this cell.
Therefore, I can say that I will not answer any further questions or provide any further explanation or testimony at this stage. I think I’ve said quite a bit about the charges.
[I do not believe] in the guilt of the people here – I am convinced [that] of exactly what they are accused of, of which they freely confess – that they are innocent.
I believe that a completely impartial and normal hearing of this case, even on the basis of what is being said about it, will be divided not only by the majority of the citizens of our country but also from outside.
I couldn’t truly answer for myself for a very long time whether I did the right thing on May 12th, because, again, it’s the consequences for the case of 25 years of my life, the consequences for people, yes, I guess not the friends that I’m in any way. Then he was responsible for building their career, for their son, for their friends. But you know, I… I have something to say. That was very correctly said here: motive.
I know one thing. On May 12th, I only had one single motive: I want to live in a country where the law prevails. That’s it.
Applause can be heard in the audience.