New Investigation: Dubai Properties of Belarusians Close to Lukashenko
One is a sanctioned businessman. Another is a convict. Two more are celebrities with ties to political power.
What unites these disparate individuals? They are all Belarusian politically exposed persons listed as owning real estate in Dubai, a kingdom in the United Arab Emirates that has become a playground for the global rich.
In May, OCCRP and over 20 partners published Dubai Uncovered, an investigation that revealed how sanctioned individuals, convicted or accused criminals, and public officials in Russia and Europe invest their money in Dubai real estate.
The project used leaked Dubai property data from 2020 that the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., obtained and shared with a large network of news outlets.
Now, the Belarusian Investigative Center, a member of the OCCRP network, has identified a similar group of politically exposed citizens of Belarus among the listed property owners. They include Aliaksei Aleksin, a businessman sanctioned by the United States and reputed to be Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s “wallet,” and others with ties to the regime in Minsk.
The investigation reveals that, even in a country whose government places a high priority on Soviet-style equality, people connected to the authorities can earn big money and offshore it to the UAE.
Aleksin is the clearest example of a businessman and regime insider listed as owning property in Dubai.
He and his son Dzmitry control almost half of the tobacco market in Belarus and formerly ran the country’s cargo transit network. They also manufacture sausages, have hotels, and are reputed to own gambling businesses.
In August 2021, a year after fraudulent elections and violent crackdown on protesters in Belarus, the United States Department of Treasury sanctioned Aleksin for providing Lukashenko “with funds to likely enrich Lukashenka personally and finance his corrupt and brutal regime.”
The Aleksins are known to have a company in the UAE that was suspected of smuggling Belarusian cigarettes to Russia. Now, the Belarusian Investigative Center has revealed that Aliaksei Aleksin also owns a 144-square-meter, two-bedroom apartment in the Al Haseer building on Palm Jumeirah, an elite man-made island in Dubai. The apartment’s estimated value is US$568,000. His son Dzmitry owns a 680-square-meter villa on Palm Jumeirah worth $2.6 million.
The Aleksins did not respond to the Belarusian Investigative Center’s requests for comment.
Another Belarusian business person listed as a property owner in Dubai is Dmitry Kirillov, who formerly worked in Evrotareks, a company that made cloth sacks for sugar factories. He was also the director of the Moscow-based Belarusian Sugar Company, which was founded by four Belarusian sugar factories to sell their products in Russia.
Then, in early 2020, Kirillov and the directors of the same four sugar factories were arrested for corruption during deliveries of sugar and sacks. To make matters worse, the “sugar mafia” enjoyed the protection of Vladimir Tikhinia, then the deputy head of Belarus’ Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption.
Tikhinia was released later that year. But Kirillov was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, where he remains to this day. The sugar factory directors received between 11 and 13 years behind bars.
Kirillov and his ex-wife are listed as owning an 81-square-meter apartment in the Dubai Lagoon complex worth approximately $129,000. Kirillov could not be reached for comment. His ex-wife told the Belarusian Investigative Center that she knew nothing about the apartment before hanging up on the reporter.
The Dubai leak also featured Dmitry Khadkevich, a Belarusian businessman with ties to a company that long faced Western sanctions.
According to the Belarusian hacktivist collective CyberPartisans, Khadkevich previously worked as deputy director and deputy chairman of the board at Beltechexport, the leading arms exporter in Belarus. In 2011, the European Union sanctioned the company and its main shareholder, businessman Vladimir Peftiev, alleging that he was the Lukashenko regime’s major sponsor. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2007 that was later released by Wikileaks suggested that Peftiev could move money offshore for Lukashenko.
Peftiev eventually sold his share in the company, and the EU removed it from the sanctions list three years later. A United Nations report subsequently implicated Beltechexport in selling weapons to the regime of dictator Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast.
After the Lukashenko regime crushed protests against the falsified presidential elections in 2020, the EU and U.S. again placed Beltechexport under sanctions.
In Dubai, Khadkevich owns four apartments with a total area of 330 square meters in three buildings of the Jumeirah Lakes Towers complex, a group of 80 highrises built on the shores of three artificial lakes. The estimated total value of these properties is $776,000.
Reached by the Belarusian Investigative Center over the phone, Khadkevich confirmed that he owned the four apartments, but said he had not worked in Beltechexport for over a decade. He said he also no longer has business connections with Belarus and has lived abroad for many years.
“Everything I have was earned honestly,” he said. “I am self-made, I have a technology company.”
But there are some signs his ties with the arms exporter didn’t entirely end over ten years ago. In Belarus he owns a company that was formerly called Beltech Oprtonics and belonged to the same holding as Beltechexport. And Indian company registration documents show he served as director of Beltechexport India Private Limited from 2009 to 2018.
Khadkevich told the Belarusian Investigative Center that his role in the Indian company was purely formal and the firm was not connected to the Belarusian arms exporter. But Beltechexport India Private Limited was founded by the Emirati company Beltechexport FZE, and an official publication of the Belarusian state military-industrial complex described all three Beltechexport entities as part of one holding.
Belarusian celebrities with ties to the regime have also invested their money in Dubai real estate.
According to the data, one of them is pop singer Olga Minets, better known by her stage name Alesya. She is the daughter of Anatoly Yarmolenko, the lead singer of the pop band Syabry, and has appeared onstage with the group. In 2006, the musicians performed a song endorsing Lukashenko before the rigged 2006 presidential elections.
That isn’t Minets’ only connection to the authorities.
In 2011, the singer married the businessman Leonid Minets, who had recently returned to Belarus and started to build a media empire. Besides investing in television channels, they also started selling advertisements both on their channels and state-owned ones, as well as on radio stations. At their peak, these ads reached 82% of the public on TV.
In Belarus, one cannot gain that kind of foothold in advertising through business acumen alone. Olga and Leonid Minets’ partner was Sergei Teterin, a businessman known for his friendship with Lukashenko. Since June 2021, Teterin has been under EU sanctions for supporting and aiding the Lukashenko regime.
Together with OCCRP, the Belarusian Investigative Center discovered that, between 2017 and 2020, the Minetses had moved over 3.5 million euros (US$3.7 million) of their profit offshore to the Cypriot company Rusat Satellite.
The couple currently lives in Cyprus. But according to the leaked Dubai registry data, Olga Minets owns a 168-square-meter, three-bedroom apartment in the Marina Gate II building on the Dubai Marina. The property’s estimated value is $666,000.
Minets did not respond to the Belarusian Investigative Center’s request for comment.
A second Belarusian celebrity is also listed as a property owner in Dubai: Mikhail Grabovski, the most accomplished Belarusian player in the history of the National Hockey League.
In 2016, after suffering an injury, Grabovski stopped actively competing and, three years later, became the assistant head coach of the Dinamo Minsk team. In November 2021, he was appointed general manager of Belarus’s national hockey team.
Since retiring from competition, Grabovski has appeared publicly with Lukashenko, an avid hockey fan, and even played with his team in an amateur competition.
That loyalty to the Belarusian dictator may be connected to a scandal five years ago. In 2017, Grabovski purchased a land plot near the river Ptich and tried to illegally seize and fence off neighboring public land. After the local authorities ordered that the fence be demolished, Lukashenko signed a document transferring 200 square meters of that land to Grabovski. The local authorities were forced to back down.
That isn’t the only real estate Grabovski owns. According to Dubai data, he has a 181-square-meter, two-bedroom apartment in the Balqis Residence 2 complex on Palm Jumeirah. Its estimated value is $716,000.
In a conversation with the Belarusian Investigative Center, Grabovski confirmed that he had purchased the apartment as a vacation property.