Foreign Ministry issues penalties on trade with Belarus tycoon

Belarus dictator’s associate under EU blacklist still has Malta-firm registered.

Vladimir Peftiev is listed as the marketing director of the firm Samuel International, which is owned by CAC Fiduciary.
Vladimir Peftiev is listed as the marketing director of the firm Samuel International, which is owned by CAC Fiduciary.

Vladimir Peftiev, the man known as 'the banker' to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, still has his company Samuel International registered in Malta, despite official EU sanctions restricting any trade with him.

The foreign ministry's sanctions board this week issued a legal notice providing for a penalty of up to €116,468 and up to five years' imprisonment for any person who commits an offence under the EU sanctions, last updated in 2011, against Lukashenko and certain officials of Belarus.

Peftiev, until recently a resident of Malta, is listed under these measures as an economic advisor of Lukashenko and a key financial sponsor of his regime, as well as the chairman of the Belarusian state's arms export company Beltechexport. Also blacklisted are Beltechexport and two firms allegedly under Peftiev's control, state lottery company Sport-Pari and BT Telecommunications.

In Malta, Peftiev is listed as the marketing director of the firm Samuel International, having been granted an employment licence in February 2010 under the Immigration Act.

Samuel International is however owned by Maltese firm CAC Fiduciary, which is its registered director and shareholder.

Saviour Cauchi, the director of CAC Fiduciary, declined to release any comment on the effects of the sanctions on Samuel International, or to put MaltaToday in touch with Peftiev for a comment. "He has no comment to make," Cauchi told this newspaper before hanging up the phone.

The EU sanctions provide for a freezing of assets held by Peftiev, and specifically prohibit the trade, financing or brokering services for equipment used for internal repression and military goods.

The foreign ministry's sanctions board must also be notified by any person or entity of such information of funds held by people listed in the EU sanctions.

Peftiev has filed a lawsuit against the European council of ministers in the European Court of Justice, claiming the EU is wrong in associating him with President Lukashenko or that he is his chief economic advisor and a financial sponsor of the regime. Peftiev also clams his rights to a fair trial were violated by the sanctions.

Peftiev's bid for to be honorary consul for Belarus was turned down by the foreign affairs ministry in June 2011. Peftiev held meetings with the Chamber of SMEs (GRTU) and the Chamber of Commerce in April 2011. Both Chambers spoke highly of Peftiev's credentials after meeting him and his wife Olga Makarova.

US embassy cables leaked by Wikileaks say Peftiev, who has been residing in Malta since 2005, may have obtained dual citizenship. But in 2007, Peftiev reportedly returned to Minsk permanently. This, according to the US embassy in Minsk, suggested that Lukashenko "no longer maintained business dealings or bank accounts in Malta."

The embassy's source told them that "the alleged Maltese money might now be salted away in Venezuela" and any illicit Lukashenko-controlled funds in Malta may have been repatriated to Belarus.

The sanctions against Belarus came in view of the deteriorating human rights, democracy and rule-of-law situation in the country.

Belarus is claimed to be a proxy agent for the sale of weapons to regimes like Iran, North Korea, and even Libya. Beltechexport produces and overhauls used weapons for resale, and is the leading re-exporter of second-hand weaponry and arms vehicles and aircraft.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has presented a report with evidence of widespread human-rights violations in Belarus. "The fact-finding mission indicates the seriousness, duration and scale of gross and systematic human rights violations since the events of December 19th... This concerns not only a long list of individual cases of great concern, as 'political detainees', but a system of social control, by fear, harassment, torture and blackmail, phone tapping, false evidence and forced confessions."