Belarusian oligarch Mikalai Varabei (Nikolay Vorobey), sanctioned by the EU in December 2020 due to his close relations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, continues to be linked to multiple properties in Austria, according to a new investigation published on Tuesday (27 September).
Austrian paper Dossier and the award-winning Vilnius-based Belarusian Investigative Center, a member of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published extensive details of the properties owned by his immediate family, as well as his connections to local elites.
The family’s fanciest property is a chalet in the southern Austrian region of Carinthia – a 300-square-metre palace surrounded by a 19,000-square-metre estate formally owned by the company Power Chemical Trading, whose owner is Katsiaryna Smuschkovich, Mikalai Varabei’s daughter.
Smuschkovich obtained her majority stake in the company from her father, who had purchased it from Maximilian Christoph von Habsburg-Lothringen, a paternal descendant of the Austrо-Hungarian Habsburg-Lothringen dynasty.
The registration papers show that Smuschkovich got the estate from her father via her stake in Power Chemical Trading.
The firm’s statements show that the company had only one employee over the years, and its 2020 financial result was a €1.5 million deficit, which the authors of the investigation interpret as indicative of a shell company established with the sole purpose of owning and servicing the Carinthian mansion.
Varabei’s wife and daughter were the joint owners of the estate, which came in handy when the EU announced sanctions against him in 2020, leaving the properties untouched as the oligarch did not own them directly.
Besides the chalet, the Varabei family holdings also include flats in Vienna, according to Dossier. This includes one purchased by Varabei’s wife Tamara in 2013 and another 202-square-metre apartment purchased by Katsiaryna in 2017 for €3 million.
Tamara was officially earning approximately $35,000 per year from working for Belarusian companies Avtoimport and Interservice at the time of purchase, the latter company she owned jointly with her husband.
During the previous year, Interservice had managed to make huge profits via the re-exportation of petroleum products.
Fuels derived from Russian oil, deliberately classified as ‘solvents’ and ‘thinners’ via a legal loophole, were exported into the EU, thus evading Russia-Belarus Customs Union’s export duties. The dealings triggered Russia to demand $1.5bn in compensation from Belarus, but the Belarusian side eventually managed to ease tensions.
Much like her mother, Katsiaryna bought her Austrian properties with funds other than her savings; since in 2015-17, she was an employee at Devana Services, a tour operator whose primary clientele were Europeans wanting to hunt in forests around Varabei’s Krasny Bor resort and hunting estate in Viciebsk Voblast.
The Belarusian Investigative Center website published photos of the Varabei family members flashing goodies such as Hermes bags worth €30,000 and €112,484 apiece, as well as designer clothing and jewellery, taken from Katsiaryna’s Instagram page.
The authors of the research hope that the gravy train the Varabei family is riding in Austria may reverse following the publication of the investigation.
The investigative website has previously scored success with the investigation into Lukashenko’s friend Mikhail Gutseriev, who managed to shelter his London properties via his son’s shell companies.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]