Daily Banking News

Lukashenko Doles Out Prime Belarus Real Estate to Serbian Cronies

Belarus has given away about $1 billion worth of land to construction companies owned by Serbia’s well-connected Karić family.

Key Findings

  • Authoritarian Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko has handed about $1 billion worth of prime real estate in Minsk to construction companies linked to the Karić family.
  • Their holding company, Dana Holdings, was sanctioned by the EU for supporting and benefitting from the Lukashenko regime.
  • Days before EU sanctions against Dana Holdings were announced, it was replaced as the owner of multiple Karić family construction firms by a United Arab Emirates company, allowing them to continue doing business in Europe.
  • The UAE company, Enterprise Developments Holding Limited, is owned by a man with a name similar to an executive director of Dana Holdings.

When the Minsk City Council announced the winner of an architectural competition in 2008, the plan for the futuristic project was ambitious. Glass towers twisted like corkscrews, enveloping a 300-meter-high skyscraper, while Venice-style gondolas cruised a canal between residential blocks.

Christened the Minsk Lighthouse, the winning design promised administrative and cultural buildings, as well as a “green zone” and Europe’s largest water park. But all there is to show for the visionary project today are high-rise cinderblock apartment buildings that blend in with much of the Belarusian capital.

The winner of the competition, Zomex Investment, was owned by a family of Serbian businessmen with close ties to Belarus’ strongman president, Alexander Lukashenko. Zomex received huge tax breaks and state resources to support the construction, and was granted free land in the center of the city through a presidential decree.

Multiple projects by Zomex and two affiliated companies — Dana Astra and Belinte Robe — have followed the same pattern: big promises and generous government support for ambitious plans that never materialize. Despite the companies’ repeated failures to deliver on commissioned projects, they keep getting contracts.

When reporters analyzed land registry records, they found that Zomex (which recently changed its name to Emirates Blue Sky), Dana Astra, and Belinte Robes currently have at least 11 construction projects around Minsk. The three companies are the largest developers in the city, and have together been given over 400 hectares of land, valued at about US$1 billion.

Reporters also discovered that the owner of those companies performed a secretive corporate maneuver that allowed him to continue profiting from sweetheart deals with Lukashenko’s administration, while dodging sanctions imposed by the European Union.

Until late last year, all three firms were owned by Dana Holdings. That company is registered in Cyprus and until recently was owned by Nebojsa Karić, a member of a wealthy and influential Serbian family that has extensive business interests in Belarus.

In December 2020, the European Union blacklisted Dana Holdings for “benefitting from and supporting” the Lukashenko regime, which has drawn international ire for brutal crackdowns on peaceful protesters rejecting a rigged vote and demanding fair elections.

The Karić family may have anticipated the EU’s move. Just days before the sanctions were announced, Dana Holdings was removed as the owner of the three property development firms and replaced by a company registered in the United Arab Emirates called Enterprise Developments Holding Limited.

The director and owner of Enterprise Developments is Mostafa el-Tobgy,…

Read More: Lukashenko Doles Out Prime Belarus Real Estate to Serbian Cronies

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