LITHUANIA-BELARUS - A cross-border investigation by Lithuanian and Belarusian journalists follows the trail of Alexander Zaytsev and Aliaksei Aleksin, two Belarusian businessmen considered to be close to the Alexander Lukashenko regime.
Independent journalists from a Lithuanian investigative journalism center Siena.lt joined forces with Belsat TV to unravel the connections between a Lithuanian elite wealth management company called Lewben and the Belarusian elites. Joined by Laisvės TV, an independent Lithuanian TV channel highly dedicated to defending democracy in Belarus, followed Zaytsev’s and Aleksin’s footsteps, reaching private jets, football, Dubai, Diego Maradona and… what seems to be a crack house in the middle of Vilnius’ financial district.
Both Zaytsev and Aleksin started doing business in Lithuania in 2012, shortly after the EU imposed sanctions on Yury Chyzh and other oligarchs close to the Lukashenko regime. At the time, Aleksin was already in business, while Zaytsev, a former aide to Lukashenko’s son Viktor, was far from being a known businessman.
Lewben, a Lithuania-based elite wealth management group, serviced both Zaytsev and Aleksin. Aleksin, known for his ties to the regime, opened a company called Lexie Ventures. It was based in the heart of Vilnius’ financial district. But in a very unique part of it.
Lexie Ventures was founded in an abandoned building known as a residence for the local homeless population. Journalists ventured to the building, looking for traces of any business activities. All they found was trash and rats.
Lexie Ventures, based in a modest location, soon moved to buy a much more decent property. Aleksin’s company – a consulting business on paper – bought a flat in central Vilnius, some 50 meters away from the Lithuanian Financial Crime Investigation Service.
The flat was shortly used to set up two companies that officially traded car parts. The two companies with obscure ownership managed to move more than 46 million euros in less than two years. Then, both businesses were liquidated just like they were set up – simultaneously. The two companies were managed by people from Lewben.
Zaytsev is a rising star in the Belarusian elite. When he first invested in Lithuania, he was barely known in his home country. Around that time, Zaytsev reportedly was an aide to Viktor Lukashenko, Alexander Lukashenko’s first-born son.
How Zaytsev skyrocketed to the top 10 of the most successful and influential businessmen in Belarus, remains a mystery. However, he makes a lot of money on state-related contracts, like selling the Belaz supertrucks to Diamond mines in Zimbabwe. Alexander Lukashenko also personally bargained a contract for ‘Belarusian businesses to do gold mining in Sudan. The ‘Belarusian businesses later appeared to be one of Zaytsev’s companies in Dubai.
In Zaytsev’s case, Lewben provides services to Sohra, a business founded in 2012, but far from being as biga as another Sohra – a Dubai-based company that became really famous after acquiring Dynamo Brest, a Belarusian football club that gained its world fame in 2018, when it hired Diego Maradona to run the club. At the time, Zaytsev was in hiding. The Belarusian public was being fed with a legend that ‘Arab sheikhs’ own both Sohra and Dynamo.
“It was one of the contract’s conditions – not to mention his name”, - Valdas Ivanauskas, a Lithuanian football legend who worked at Dynamo Brest, told Siena.
One of Lewben’s affiliates brought Maradona to Brest. The private jet that got the ‘hand of God’ to Belarus belongs to Charter Jets, a Lithuanian company directly affiliated with Lewben. Lewben also managed Litenburgo Investments Limited – a Cyprus-based company that bought the Lithuanian Sohra from Zaytsev. Now, Zaytsev is the direct owner of Litenburgo.
Due to confidentiality agreements, the Lithuanian wealth management company refused to give any client-related comments. In a written statement, Lewben claimed to be strictly following anti money laundering laws and other regulations.
Lewben gave no comments on the two companies set up in the flat owned by Aleksin’s company. They did, however, explain why the dilapidated flat in the financial districts was used to register dozens of companies.
“Once, there were hopes to complete an investment project in that location and build an office building. (…) However, the plan was never developed”, Lewben states.
Vytis Jurkonis, a political scientist based in Vilnius, claims that both Zaytsev and Aleksin should be treated like politically exposed persons – or PEPs – due to their affiliations with the Lukashenko regime. Lewben states it has no PEPs from Belarus among its clients.
Two Belarusian businessmen banned from EU after Journalismfund-supported investigation
Alexander Zaytsev and Aliaksei Aleksin, two Belarusian businessmen considered to be close to the Alexander Lukashenko regime - were officially included in the EU sanctions package starting from 21 June, 2021 (# 126 and # 127 in the European Council Implementing Regulation 2021 / 997).
When the sanctions against Aleksin and Zaytsev were imposed, the official sanction implementation decision mirrored the team's stories in a large extent. Companies mentioned in the stories were indicated to be the source of the oligarchs' benefiting from their relationship with the regime, further stressing the importance of the investigative work.
"Sometimes, it takes years for an investigative story to have a clear impact. Sometimes, it never happens. In this case, international sanctions came 8 months after we ran our first story, and this is the first time when my work makes this kind of an impact. In my perspective, investigative journalism isn't about punishing people. It's about getting the truth out to the world - even from regimes as tight as the one in Belarus. And once the truth is out, change will come sooner or later", underlines the team leader Sarunas Cerniauskas.
Photo image: Šarūnas Černiauskas
- Bat’ka, babkės ir bomžynas - Siena.lt (Lithuania), 15/10/2020
- Batka, babkės ir bomžynas | Tarptautinis žurnalistinis tyrimas - Laisves TV (Lithuania), 15/10/2020;
- Атачэнне Лукашэнкі адмывае грошы праз Літву? | Окружение Лукашенко отмывает деньги через Литву? - Belsat TV (Belarus), 15/10/2020
DOCUMENTARY WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES:
- Bat‘ka, babkės ir bomžynas - Siena.lt, 15/10/2020.
EXPANDED ENGLISH VERSION OF THE STORY:
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