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Viewing cable 07MINSK125, THE "GOOD FELLAS" IN LUKASHENKO'S CIRCLE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MINSK125 2007-02-09 15:03 2010-12-20 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Minsk
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSK #0125/01 0401506
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 091506Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY MINSK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5617
INFO RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
C O N F I D E N T I A L MINSK 000125

SIPDIS

DEPT ALSO FOR INR/B
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/09/2017
TAGS: PGOV PINR BO
SUBJECT: THE "GOOD FELLAS" IN LUKASHENKO'S CIRCLE

Classified By: Ambassador Karen Stewart for reason 1.4 (d).

Summary
-------

1. (C) A Russian-based internet newspaper has been publishing
a series of reports on alleged criminal rackets organized
and/or headed by Lukashenko's former Minister of Interior
Sivakov and commander of the President's personal special
forces unit Pavlichenko. Reliable Embassy contacts asserted
that the allegations are true and provided more details on
the corrupt dealings of these notorious characters. However,
even if the claims are true, these men's close relationship
to Lukashenko and their participation in previous dirty deeds
on his behalf virtually guarantee them protection from
prosecution. Both men are on the U.S. visa ban and asset
freeze lists for their suspected involvement in the 1999-2000
disappearances of opposition leaders. End summary.

BKGB Investigation Leads to Sivakov
-----------------------------------

2. (U) In late November 2006, a generally reliable
Russian-based internet newspaper, "Belaruskiy Partizan,"
reported that the Belarusian KGB's special forces unit ALFA
raided the office of the pro-government association of
veterans of special forces "Chyest" (Honor) following an
investigation into smuggling and money laundering. State
media or GOB officials have not commented on this alleged
incident. According to Belaruskiy Partizan, dozens of people
were arrested, including the "Chyest" executive director
Andrey Shirai. However, the head of "Chyest," former
Minister of Sports and Tourism Yuri Sivakov, who
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)
Rapporteur Christos Pourgourides cited in his 2003 report as
a suspect in the 1999-2000 disappearances of several
opposition activists, remains free, even after allegedly
refusing to disclose the source of USD 450,000 the BKGB
confiscated from his safe.

3. (U) According to reports from Belaruskiy Partizan, the
raid on "Chyest" headquarters was the result of an
independent investigation into a customs house racket
involving the illegal importation and transit of foodstuffs
and appliances. In November 2006, state and independent
media reported that 50 border guards and customs officers in
Minsk and Grodno were convicted and sentenced to prison for
accepting bribes in exchange for letting 600 trucks cross the
Belarusian border between 2002 and 2004 without paying USD
4.7 million in import duties. According to Belaruskiy
Partizan, the BKGB followed the money trail to a series of
bank accounts totaling USD 500 million, some of them
belonging to "Chyest" executive director Shirai.

Shirai Washing GOB Officials' Money
-----------------------------------

4. (U) Belaruskiy Partizan investigative reporter Ivan
Kovalchuk explained that Sivakov appointed Shirai as
executive director of "Chyest," despite the latter's previous
convictions for theft and embezzlement. Shirai was
apparently well known among the GOB elite and BKGB as a money
launderer for state construction companies, private
businesses owned by government officials, and several
GOB-controlled enterprises. Kovalchuk's source noted that
Shirai was very close to some BKGB officials and members of
the State Control Committee.

"Chyest" Rolling In the Dough
-----------------------------

5. (U) BKGB officers during the alleged raid confiscated USD
430,000 in cash and the organization's financial ledger,
which revealed that "Chyest's" liquid financial assets were
around USD 890,000. According to Belaruskiy Partizan, the
BKGB discovered that "Chyest" was transferring approximately
USD 1.5 million dollars daily to financial institutions in
Poland, then to Russia, and finally accumulating in the U.S.,
often in bank accounts under Shirai's name.

The Benefactors and the Source
------------------------------

6. (C) Former investigator for the public prosecutor's
department and now human rights activist Oleg Volchek
supported the claims made in Belaruskiy Partizan's reports.
According to Volchek's contacts in the BKGB, not only was
Sivakov a direct benefactor of the "Chyest" racket, but money
trails from the organization also led to senior National
Assembly deputies like Vladimir Konoplyov and senior
Presidential Administration figures, like deputy head Natalya
Petkevich.

7. (C) Much of the money Shirai laundered allegedly came from
Colonel Dmitry Pavlichenko and his SOBR unit's financial
exploits (see paragraph 9). According to Volchek,
Pavlichenko and his death squad, who operate under
Lukashenko's direct command, are the most powerful "krisha"
(roof) or "protection" for businesses and generate a lot of
revenue from bribes. (Note: Pavlichenko and his SOBR unit
were also cited in PACE Rapporteur Pourgourides' report as
the likely triggermen in the opposition leader disappearances
and the physical liquidation of crime bosses shortly after
Lukashenko's rise to power. Konoplyov, Petkevich, and
Pavlichenko are on the U.S. visa ban list. Petkevich and
Pavlichenko are also on the U.S. asset freeze list. End
note.)

BKGB Abandons Case, Passes It to Ministry of Interior
--------------------------------------------- --------

8. (U) Not long after news of the "Chyest" raid surfaced, the
BKGB passed the case to the Ministry of the Interior.
Volchek believed that BKGB Head Stepan Sukharenko, upon
realizing whose money he was chasing, decided to back off.
On January 31, Belaruskiy Partizan indicated that Sivakov
suddenly resigned as head of "Chyest," leaving command to
Pavlichenko. Sivakov's departure was allegedly due to
personal conflicts with the SOBR commander. OMON riot police
commander Yuriy Podobed (also on the U.S. visa ban and assets
freeze lists) followed suit, allegedly claiming that
self-dignity would not allow him to continue work under
Pavlichenko's command.

Pavlichenko's Money Exchange Offers Poor Rates
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (C) In mid-November, Belaruskiy Partizan also reported
that Pavlichenko and his SOBR unit severely beat a black
market currency speculator on the steps of the Borisov police
station. Not long after the incident, political activist
Viktor Kornyenko informed Poloff that Pavlichenko was the
main "krisha" in Borisov and his victim failed to pay
Pavlichenko bribes.

10. (C) On January 18, political analyst Vladimir Podgol
shared with Poloff information that he received from his
contacts about the Pavlichenko incident in Borisov. Podgol
also alleged that Pavlichenko and his SOBR unit has been
operating a "krisha" for several business sectors, including
money exchange. Lately, Pavlichenko's tributes from money
speculators in Borisov decreased because a new group of
speculators emerged that were giving customers better rates
of exchange and, hence, stealing his business.

The Shakedown, GoodFellas Style
-------------------------------

11. (C) According to Podgol, Pavlichenko and his SOBR unit
attempted to arrest the leader of the competing money
speculators as the latter was about to make a USD 50,000
exchange. The speculator managed to escape to the police
station but was caught by Pavlichenko before reaching the
doors and a severe beating ensued. Podgol maintained that a
female police officer ordered Pavlichenko to stop, but
Pavlichenko, using graphic language, threatened to kill her.
Once they finished beating the speculator, Pavlichenko and
his men went to the speculator's house and seized USD 16,000
on top of the USD 50,000 they had already confiscated. They
then delivered the speculator to an undisclosed Minsk
detention facility, where he remains today, if not dead.

Comment
-------

12. (C) The allegations against Sivakov and Pavlichenko seem
credible, given that both men have notorious reputations as
criminals and, in Pavlichenko's case, as murderers. The
facts will likely never be fully revealed, given the obvious
political sensitivities and the depth of corruption in the
regime. However, both men truly owe their protection to
their leader, President Lukashenko, on whose behalf they are
suspected of committing heinous crimes.
Stewart