Days Before EU Sanctions, Belarusian Oligarch’s Family Sells its Firm and Bank
Days before the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarusian oligarch Aliaksei Aleksin over his links to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, his family sold its Cyprus-based company along with a bank to a Lebanese businessman, this way saving both entities from the sanctions-related asset freeze.
Aleksin was among dozens of Belarusian tycoons and officials hit by sanctions in response to the grounding of a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania. Once the plane was diverted to Minsk, Belarusian authorities arrested a dissident journalist and his girlfriend who were on board.
The Aleksin family sold MTB Investments Holdings, the Cyprus-based company that according to a press release held “more than 99%” of MTBank on June 16. The EU announced its sanctions five days later.
According to its annual report for 2019, the Cyprus company held assets worth 61.81 million euro (US$73.35 million). After the change in ownership, it will most likely avoid the asset freeze.
In a short telephone interview Aleksin told OCCRP that the sale was not related to the sanctions and it was “planned a long time ago.”
The new owner of MTB Investments Holdings is Stoneva Limited, a company based in Dubai, a jurisdiction which has attracted significant Belarusian capital. According to MTBank’s official statement, Stoneva Limited belongs to Abdo Romeo Abdo, a Lebanese businessman who is the owner and director of BNK-Engineering and BNK-Holding, businesses with a major presence in Belarus.
In 2007, Romeo Abdo joined forces with Nepalese investors and has done several construction projects in Belarus, including a shopping center and business centers - Rubin Plaza and Silver Tower.
Their BNK-Holding also built a water park, the Hyatt Regency Hotel and several large residential areas in Minsk. The total value of the group’s projects in real estate in Belarus is estimated at $1 billion.
Some Belarusian media suggested that Romeo Abdo might be affiliated with two more sanctioned individuals - Aliaksandr Shakutsin and Mikalai Varabei. He was also mentioned in a major money laundering scandal in Nepal.
In its statement released two days after the EU blacklisted Aleksin, MTBank stated that the sale was the “result of more than a year of work in search of a potential investor.”
Amra Džonlić and Maria Matušević contributed research to this story