Corruption in Belarusian sport: the trend of five-year prison terms
Several corruption scandals shook Belarusian sport in 2016. They demonstrate that even Alexander Lukashenka's favourites are not safe from corruption.
Perhaps the most discussed case was the five-year prison sentence of Maksim Subbotkin, the General Director of the most successful ice-hockey club in Belarus – Dynama-Minsk, whom the court charged for embezzlement.
In spite of the fact that the Belarusian state prides itself on its achievements in fighting corruption, bribery remains widespread in all spheres of life, including sport. Moreover, corruption has become a part of the Belarusian political system. Corruption scandals perform an ideological function and serve to control the bureaucracy.
Alexander Lukashenka's favourite club
The story of Alexander Lukashenka's favourite club starts in 2003, when the Ministry of Internal Affairs decided to revive Dynama Minsk: the most successive Belarusian club during Soviet times. In the early 2010s, with a budget of around $20m, Dynama became the richest professional sport club in Belarus. Most profitable state enterprises, such as SC Belaruskali and the Mazyr Oil Refinery, subsidised the project.
Representing Belarus in the Continental Hockey League, Dynama became one of the most popular teams in the league, with an average attendance of more than 12,000 spectators per match. Lukashenka himself monitored the team's results and regularly criticised the club for poor performances.
It might seem that such close attention from the head of state should render the club immune from corruption. However, in 2015, the club's top-managers became embroiled in a corruption scandal. After spending a year and a half in jail, in October 2016 a court sentenced ex-CEO of the club Maksim Subbotkin to five years behind bars.
Another top-manager of Dynama, Uladzimir Berazhkou, spent eight months in prison, but Lukashenka pardoned and released him after he re-paid $65,000 worth of monetary losses. Despite the corruption charges, the functionary got a position as head of the Department of Marketing and Communication in the Belarusian Football Federation immediately after his release.
Maksim Subbotkin also compensated monetary losses amounting to $150,000, but the president denied him clemency. According to the investigation, Subbotkin had used his subsidiary company, Dynama-Marketing, to misappropriate funds. Moreover, the ex-general director had 'employed' Berazhkou’s teammate Leanid Sagyndykau in his club when in reality he did not work there. Berazhkou handed his salaries to Subbotkin.
It should be mentioned that in spite of their repayments, neither top-manager fully admitted his guilt. Subbotkin even denied the charges and appealed the sentence.
The latest corruption cases in Belarusian sport
The Dynama Minsk corruption case received considerable attention in the media, but this was not the only large corruption case in Belarusian sport in 2016. Another top-manager, the ex-general director of the Basketball club Tsmoki-Minsk, Kanstantsin Shereveria, received five and a half years in September 2016. The functionary will also have to pay $180,000 worth of damages.
The court accused the manager of the largest Basketball club in the country – which has an annual budget of $2m – of misappropriation. According to the investigation the manager had misappropriated players’ salaries and organised his birthday party using club funds. However, Sheveria, a club founder and former basketball player, denied the accusations, claiming that he had used all appropriated funds for club development.
The latest corruption scandal in sport occurred in the Belarusian Football Federation. In January 2017, head of the Judiciary Department Andrei Zhukau received five years imprisonment for bribery. The investigation revealed that between 2014 and 2016 he had enriched himself by $650 and a bottle of Cognac. He had received these small bribes from referees and coaches as a reward for referee appointments on Belarusian football league matches.
Corruption as an element of the political system
In 2015, Belarus came 107th in Transparency International's corruption index. Nevertheless, the state media characterise the fight against corruption as one of the most significant accomplishment of the Belarusian authorities. Alexander Lukashenka intends to preserve the image of corruption fighter, which he created in the very beginning of his rule. The Belarusian media cover the corruption cases of highly-placed functionaries, top-managers, and businessmen in great detail. Such trials remain commonplace in Belarus.
With rare exceptions, the state owns and sponsors all Belarusian sport clubs. The way sport clubs are managed is not significantly different from state-owned factories. For that reason, clubs are as vulnerable to corruption as other state enterprises. Even projects as special as Dynama are not spared.
On the other hand, given the non-independent nature of the judiciary system, it is impossible to be fully confident as to whether the defendants are guilty or not. The number of acquittals in Belarus raises doubts about the independence of the judiciary. Acquittals occur less than half a per cent of the time, much less than in the EU and even in neighbouring Russia and Ukraine. Furthermore, most functionaries accused of corruption plead not guilty.
In the machinery of the Belarusian state, highly sensitive to corruption, almost any civil servant can be accused of bribery and receive a five-year prison sentence. Corruption cases in sport illustrate the overall situation in public administration and state-owned enterprise management. As these trials show, arbitrage practises do not distinguish between $150,000 losses and petty bribes. Both kinds of crime lead to equal punishment.
Such a system is very expedient for Alexander Lukashenka personally. It fosters his image as a corruption fighter and allows him to keep officials and managers on a short leash. According to the law, the Belarusian president can pardon his subordinates imprisoned for corruption if they compensate for the losses. Very often, he even offers positions to newly released functionaries, as was the case for Uladzimir Berazhkou. These powers give the head of state unlimited possibilities for control of the bureaucracy.
Social parasite tax postponed, round table on Kurapaty, Uralkali – Belarus state press digest
The government will postpone the ‘social parasite’ decree but not rescind it. The Minister of the Interior claims that the opposition is waging an information war against his ministry. A round table with Belarus Segodnia discusses whether Kurapaty should become a National Mourning Memorial.
The Belarusian government reveals a Russian official's vested interest in banning Belarusian imports. The Belarusian president hosts his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili in Minsk.
Minsk may restore cooperation with the Russian company Uralkali. This and more in the new edition of Belarus state press digest.
The government will postpone the ‘social parasite’ decree, but not rescind it. Zaria reports on Alexander Lukashenka’s decision regarding the notorious decree on taxing ‘social parasites’. He has officially postponed it until 2018 and ordered that the list of freeloaders be double-checked. Those who have already paid the fee will not have to pay it next year even if they are still unemployed, and they will be remunerated if they have found a job by then. Lukashenka ordered all unemployed people to find a job by 1 May.
'We need to determine where these people can work, set up brigades, groups that will plant forests, build fences, paint, clean up the streets, dig, carry things, and so on. And we will employ all people', the head of state said. Lukashenka also demanded that the authorities create a space for a civilised dialogue between the authorities and society, including large-scale events. 'People should have places where they can express their opinions, as in developed countries in the West. But all attempts to create disorder or violence should be stopped immediately,' he underlined.
Opposition stages information war against the Interior Ministry. In a long interview to Belarus Segodnia, Interior Minister Ihar Šunievič argued that no post-Soviet country has successfully reformed its police by merely copying Western uniform and smiles. Likewise, Belarus will not make a radical break with its policing system but rather pursue incremental reform. He also denied a widespread rumour regarding the amount of police in Belarus: there are a mere 405 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants, and not the alleged 1,500.
The minister argued that the political opposition is waging an information war against the police force to weaken it and change the political system of Belarus. He also noted that crime remains inside the police ranks and the ministry combats it successfully. Šunievič also commented on the controversial NKVD uniform that he wears during military parades. He made the uniform in order to honour to security servicemen that worked during the difficult war and post-war times.
Round table with Belarus Segodnia: Kurapaty should become a National Mourning Memorial. Belarus Segodnia held a round table on the future of Kurapaty – the site of mass executions during the Stalin regime in the 1920s-1950s. Prominent figures including chief editor Paviel Jakubovič, First Deputy KGB Chairman Ihar Siarhejenka, and Commissioner for Religious Affairs and Nationalities Leanid Huliaka. A number of historians also took part in the discussion. The participants argued that local authorities' disregard for the place and the lack of commemoration activities has led to a vacuum which was filled by political forces trying to privatise Kurapaty.
The resolution of the round table recommended the founding of a National Mourning Memorial in Kurapaty supported by all Belarusians regardless of their religion or political affiliation. The nation needs to confront anything which divides Belarusians, causes confrontation, or weakens the country in Belarus's public and spiritual life.
The Belarusian government reveals Russian official's vested interest in banning Belarusian imports. Narodnaja Hazieta quotes Russian Transparency International, which revealed that Sergei Dankvert, head of the Russian agricultural control agency, owns a network of companies in Kaluga Region affiliated with a large agricultural enterprises which Dankvert was a manager of in 1995-2000. He thus has vested interest in the sphere which he regulates as a government official.
His incumbency brought restrictions on exports of numerous Belarusian agricultural companies to the Russian market, resulting in huge losses during 2016-2017. The newspaper also quotes Belarusian expert Aliaksandr Špakoŭski, who argues that Belarusian companies are excluded from the Russian market because they do not offer kickbacks to Russian officials. Earlier, Alexander Lukashenka publicly accused Dankvert of personal interest in banning Belarusian food imports.
Belarus increases cooperation with Georgia. The Belarusian president hosted his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili in Minsk on 1-2 March. Earlier, the sides had aimed to reach $200m in bilateral trade; they are currently half-way there. Georgia stands to benefit from Belarusian experience in agricultural technologies, since 50% of its population works in agriculture but makes up only 9% of the GDP.
Belarus also assists Georgia in modernisation of elevators in houses, building a sports arena and biathlon infrastructure, as well as supply of communal service machines and other areas. Lukashenka noted during the meeting that the two countries are not developing relations in order to oppose some third party, but rather to act according to their own national interests.
Minsk may restore cooperation with Uralkali. Lukashenka met with the leaders of the Belarusian potash industry to discuss the possibility of restoring cooperation with the Russian company Uralkali. After a conflict and eventual breakup in 2013, the current owners of Uralkali continuously signal to Minsk that they are eager to restore relations. Belarus appears to be thinking it over.
According to Lukashenka, the interests of Belarus should be met by 200 per cent if a joint venture is to take place again. The company should work on the territory of Belarus and the sides should honestly agree on all issues. ‘If the deal harms Belarusian interests, we are out', he said
Belarusian project Kino-mo among the 'top 10 best gadgets of the world' according to USA Today. Belarusian IT startup entrepreneurs Arciom Stavienka and Kiryl Čykiejuk triumphed at the annual CES 2017 exhibition in Las Vegas with their hologram technology Kino mo. The gadget produces 2D and 3D images in the air and is becoming increasingly popular in the advertising industry.
In 2016, the projects was also included in the New Europe 100 rating of Financial Times – a list of the brightest people and organisations from Central and Eastern Europe who are changing the region’s social, political, or business environments. The project has already established links with several prominent billionaires, including Richard Branson and Mark Cube.
The state press digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.