Belarus’ president hopeful gets 14-year prison-term

Yuras Karmanau

Kyiv (Ukraine)

The highest court in Belarus convicted an aspiring rival to the nation’s authoritarian president on corruption charges he rejected as politically motivated and sentenced him Tuesday to 14 years in prison.

Viktor Babariko, the head of a commercial bank owned by Russian natural gas company Gazprom, had hoped to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko last year, but he was arrested before the country’s August 2020 presidential election and prohibited from registering as a candidate.

At the time, he was widely perceived as Lukashenko’s main rival, and his arrest drew thousands of protesters to the streets. On Tuesday, Belarus’ Supreme Court convicted Babariko on charges of taking a bribe and money laundering and handed him a 14-year prison sentence and a fine of $57,000.

Babariko, who served as the chief executive of Belgazprombank, has remained jailed since his arrest. He dismissed the corruption charges against him as politically driven. "I can't plead guilty to the crimes I didn't commit," Babariko told the court before it issued the verdict.

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