Days before the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarusian oligarch Aliaksei Aleksin for his ties to the Alexander Lukashenko regime, his family sold his Cyprus-based company and a bank to a man from Lebanese affairs, thus saving the two entities from the asset freeze linked to the sanctions.
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. After 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 which, according to a press release, owned âover 99%â of MTBank on June 16. The EU announced its sanctions five days later.
According to its annual report for 2019, the Cypriot company held assets worth 61.81 million euros ($ 73.35 million). After the change of ownership, it will most likely avoid the asset freeze.
In a brief telephone interview, Aleksin told OCCRP that the sale was unrelated to sanctions and was “planned for a long time ago”.
The new owner of MTB Investments Holdings is Stoneva Limited, a company based in Dubai, a jurisdiction that has attracted significant Belarusian capital. According to the official MTBank statement, Stoneva Limited is owned by Abdo Romeo Abdo, a Lebanese businessman owner and director of BNK-Engineering and BNK-Holding, companies with a strong presence in Belarus.
In 2007, Romeo Abdo partnered with Nepalese investors and completed several construction projects in Belarus, including a shopping mall 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 real estate projects in Belarus is estimated at $ 1 billion.
Some Belarusian media have suggested that Romeo Abdo may be affiliated with two other sanctioned individuals – Aliaksandr Shakutsin and Mikalai Varabei. He was also mentioned in a major money laundering scandal in Nepal.
In its statement issued two days after Aleksin was blacklisted by the EU, MTBank said the sale was “the result of more than a year of work to find a potential investor.”
Amra DÅ¾onliÄ and Maria MatuÅ¡eviÄ contributed to the research of this story