BELARUS: SURE TO HEAR “UNDEMOCRATIC POLITICALLY-MOTIVATED CHARGES” FROM THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 2 mins)

Viktor Babariko, leading political opposition leader until he was arrested on corruption charges just before the Presidential election last August, has been sentenced in Belarus to 14 years in jail and a fine equivalent to a little over €47,990. Viktor Babariko was the head of a bank owned by the gas company Gazprom.

Viktor Babariko in Minsk courtroom cage July 2021 (Photo credit Rami Nasibulin BelTA Pool/ AP)

The news has already drawn condemnation of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus from the USA’s Embassy and howls of protest are sure to be heard across the EU also. The hypocrisy there on this kind of treatment of political opponents is stark – the Spanish state jailed nine political leaders for their involvement in an independence referendum in 2017, sentencing them to up to 13 years in prison (the State Prosecution asked for around 50 years), while leaders of most EU states and main political parties remained silent.

To be sure, European regimes, even the Spanish one, are more liberal than the one in Belarus. After four years in jail, the Spanish regime recently released those Catalan political activists on conditional pardons, a move unlikely to be equalled in Belarus. But those Catalans are barred from standing in elections and face a return to jail for “any repetition of their crimes” – i.e organising politically for Catalan independence. And some others are in jail for activities during the protest general strikes and over 3,000 are threatened with judicial process for involvement in the 2017 Referendum. Other Catalan political leaders are in exile, including the former President of Catalonia’s autonomous region, who is a Member of the European Parliament.

And European regimes wouldn’t use financial wrongdoing charges against political opponents, would they? Or try to cripple them financially? Actually, right at this moment, the Spanish State, through its audit court, is pursuing former Catalan Government ministers and officials on charges of misusing their Government’s funds, demanding a total of €50.4 million from them (sums of over €2m each). Furthermore, they must put those amounts up as bonds — without being convicted of financial wrongdoing in any criminal court — and have only weeks to do so.

Oriol Junqueras, former Deputy Leader of Catalonia (also elected an MEP while in jail), has been ordered to “repay” €1.9m. Carles Puigdemont, former Catalan President now in exile in Belgium, has also been ordered to pay €1.9m. On Tuesday Puigdemont commented on Twitter that his lawyer had been given only three hours to read 500 pages of court documents and 10 minutes to put his case.

What if those being targeted refuse to pay or simply can’t pay? Their property, including house and car can be seized along with a portion of their income, quite possibly deducted for the rest of their lives.

Andreu Mas-Colell, 76, a former Catalan finance minister, also faces a court demand for a large repayment. A former Harvard economics professor, he has received the support of 53 economists, including 33 Nobel laureates, who last week wrote a letter urging the Spanish state not to impose a large fine on him. His son, Gabriel Mas, told the Financial Times: “In the next 15 days, Andreu will have to deposit a guarantee of €670,000-€2.8m as the result of an administrative decision in which not a single judge has participated.”

With regard to the Babariko sentence, the stink of hypocrisy rising from the Spanish State is appalling — but it covers most of the EU too.

End.

REFERENCES

Belarus court convicts and jails Viktor Babariko: https://www.breakingnews.ie/world/belarus-sentences-former-presidential-contender-to-14-years-1152525.html

Conditional pardons of jailed Catalan activists: https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/spanish-government-pardons-jailed-catalan-separatist-leaders/

Financial penalties on Catalan political activists:

https://www.ft.com/content/85555e23-a7fa-43f1-b5f2-40fa63d64a69

https://euobserver.com/opinion/152346

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/28/catalonia-threat-impose-massive-fines-ex-minister-prompt-outcry

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