How Lukashenko’s Serbian friends in the construction business avoid sanctions

Photo: From left to right: Dragomir Karić, Alexander Lukashenko and Tomislav Nikolić. / President.gov.by

Since 1991, the Serbian brothers Bogoljub and Dragomir Karic have operated construction companies all across the Balkans and post-Soviet nations in the east, along with the rest of their family. In their most recent joint investigation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Belarusian Investigative Centre (BIC) have described the brothers’ ties to the Minsk regime and looked into the sales and transfers of the family’s many properties, IntelliNews has reported.

Bogoljub and Dragomir have expanded their political careers on the side of their economic ventures, and the Karic brothers made headlines in the 1990s as supporters of Slobodan Milosevic’s administration.

Bogoljub Karic created the political movement Strength of Serbia in 2004, and his brother Dragomir joined the party the following year. Since then, Dragomir has served in the Belgrade City Assembly and, as of 2012, has been a member of the Serbian Parliament. Their political careers and economic enterprises have coexisted, and it’s noteworthy that Dragomir has served in leadership roles in Serbia’s parliamentary friendship groups for the nations where he has done the most business, including the post-Soviet states and Cyprus.

Relationships with the family of Alexander Lukashenko

Construction projects by Dana Holdings have become prevalent in Minsk since Bogoljub founded the integrated real estate, investment, and development company in 2006. These projects are frequently criticized for having a damaging effect on city planning.

“It’s commonly known that one cannot manage a significant business in Belarus without Aleksander Lukashenka’s help,” the Karic brothers swiftly acquired the needed support, according to BIC in their inquiry.

Bogoljub was accused of money laundering and tax evasion in Serbia in 2006. To avoid prosecution in Serbia, he went to his friend, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, who assisted him until the case was withdrawn. He received a Belarusian passport in 2010. Dragomir was commended by Lukashenko for his services to “enhancing” trade connections between the two nations when he was appointed honorary consul for Belarus in Serbia in 2009. The two brothers meet with Lukashenko frequently, and BelTA, the state-run media organization in Belarus, has reported on these interactions.

The development of the Minsk-Mir residential project, which is highly promoted by state-owned Belarusian media, is currently being carried out by their business Dana Astra. At one point in 2021, Lukashenko gave land worth $1 billion to three businesses connected to the Karic brothers by exempting them from the required land auctioning process. Additionally, Lukashenko exempted the corporation from paying some taxes and permitted the use of government dollars to finance the construction of roads, electricity, and water infrastructure in the residential projects of the enterprises.

The families of Karic and Lukashenko are very closely connected. The National Olympics Committee of Belarus, which is led by none other than Alexander Lukashenko’s son Viktor Lukashenko, is now sponsored by Dana Holdings. Between 2014 to 2016, Liliya Lukashenko, Viktor’s wife, worked for Dana Astra, a division of Dana Holdings. Liliya developed a friendship with Bogoljub’s wife while working at Dana Astra.

Between 2011 and 2016, the two went on multiple trips together to Greece and Cyprus with Viktor Lukashenko, their kids, and Viktor’s mother (the ex-wife of Alexander Lukashenko). After 2016, Liliya became the director of “Art Chaos,” an art gallery run by Dana Astra at the Dana Mall shopping center.

Dana Astra’s sale and the evading of sanctions

Dana Holdings (Cyprus) and Dana Astra (Belarus) were sanctioned by the EU and UK in December 2020 as a result of the Karic brother’s close ties to the Lukashenko family. In August 2021, the US imposed penalties in addition to those imposed by the EU, the UK, one of Bogoljub’s sons, Nebojsa Karic, and two offshore corporations that Dana Holdings controlled through five Cyprus-based companies.

The US Department of Treasury referred to the Karic family as “Lukashenko’s construction wallet” in its official announcement. Bogoljub Karic was subject to penalties as part of the EU’s sixth round of sanctions in June 2022 because of his assistance to and financial gain from the Lukashenko regime.

The Karic brothers foresaw the 2020 sanctions and sold their five Cyprus subsidiaries to a company in the UAE called Enterprise Developments Holding two weeks before the sanctions to protect their assets. To protect their assets, the Karic brothers appointed their family friend Nagip Behluli as the head of Dana Holdings in February of this year. The Karic family paid dividends to these five companies in Cyprus totaling more than €170 million between 2008 and 2020 from the profits of their Belarusian business Dana Astra.

The CEO of Enterprise Developments Holding is a friend of the Kari family as well. Mostafa El-Tobgy, a 41-year-old British businessman who had been employed by Elena Bogoljub’s consultancy firm, abruptly transferred all of his ownership interests in the business to Danica Bogoljub in 2010. He once served as the executive director of the Dana Holdings group of companies, and he has appeared alongside the Kari family in various social media posts. El-Tobgy also resides in one of Dana Astra’s posh apartments in Belarus, where he holds a “special work permission” and is a resident.

The official book value of the five companies combined was calculated at €21,550, making a profit of €700 million for Dana Holdings on the sale of these five businesses in Cyprus. By the end of 2020, the funds were still not transferred; they were instead recorded as receivables in Dana Holdings’ current account.

“All symptoms of money laundering” are present in this transaction, according to OCCRP experts. This is due to several factors, including the fact that Dana Holdings sold the businesses right before the penalties were announced, the transfer of the majority ownership of the businesses from one tax haven nation to another, and close Tobgy’s ties to the Karic family. The idea was to create a “paper trail for the money that legally permits them to access this €700mn,” according to export from the OCCRP. They can access the funds in a nation where they are not sanctioned and still collect dividends from hidden assets thanks to this paper trail.

The OCCRP has also demonstrated that Bogoljub Karic and two of his children not only hold property in Dubai and Minsk but that Dejan Lazarevic, Bogoljub’s son-in-law, is also the registered owner of seven properties in London.

The Karic brothers’ odd transactions with Togby’s Developments Holding and their real estate holdings in Dubai and London, as well as with Dana Astra, Dana Holdings, and its five firms in Cyprus, were the subject of a formal request for comment from BIC. A response from the family attorney for Karic is anticipated in about three weeks.

The depth of the Karic family’s business networks, which enable them to avoid the sanctions placed on them as a result of their support for the Lukashenko dictatorship, as well as the amount of corruption involving Lukashenko’s family, have both been made clear by this inquiry. Three earlier investigations were covered by IntelliNews, the most recent of which focused on the European Union and the vacations and property of the Belarusian government’s elite.

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