«Payoff on wheels»: Oleksin presented Lukashenka with 9 cars and motorcycles worth €1.5 million

15 mins

На русском языке: «Откат на колесах»: Олексин подарил Лукашенко 9 автомобилей и мотоциклов стоимостью €1,5 млн
На беларускай мове: «Адкат на колах»: Алексін падарыў Лукашэнку 9 аўтамабіляў і матацыклаў коштам €1,5 млн

The Lithuanian publication of Siena, the program «Let’s deal with it» of the Belsat TV channel, Ales Yaroshevich, Alexei Karpeka (@menskdoldrums), Olga Ratmirova and OCCRP released a joint investigation in which, thanks to documents leaked by Cyber Partisans from the database of registration of vehicles in Belarus, it became known that pro-government businessman Alexei Oleksin presented nine cars and motorcycles to Lukashenka’s personal security service.

"Quid pro quo". How did Lukashenka make Oleksin the "tobacco king"?

In August 2018, Lukashenka granted Oleksin and his company Energo-Oil exclusive rights to wholesale all cigarettes produced at the Grodno tobacco factory Neman. Energo-Oil also received the right to take over the management of the country’s largest network of cigarette kiosks (Tabakerka) and received a rare license to import cigarettes. A little later, support went further and Lukashenka redrawed the borders of Minsk so that Oleksin could build a cigarette factory outside the official borders of the city, «probably for reasons related to tax evasion».

Thus, Lukashenka actually transferred one of the largest industries in the country to Alexei Oleksin, who had never worked in the tobacco sector before. And shortly after receiving such support, in October 2018, Oleksin presented Lukashenka’s security service with eight cars and motorcycles, and a month later, another one.

Some of the presented cars are of particular value for their uniqueness, among the «gifts» were:

  • BCC Vintage 2018 production year;
  • Two Maybach 62S models worth about $500,000 each;
  • A 1958 Chevrolet Impala worth about 100,000 euros ($113,000);
  • Classic GAZ-96 1967 production year;
  • Renault Twizy 2013 production year;
  • Harley-Davidson 2017 production year;
  • Vintage motorcycle Jawa 350 1969 production year;
  • Tricycle Spyder F3SM6 2015 production year.

In public, Lukashenka appeared with at least two of the mentioned cars. There is definitely a Maybach 62S in the garage, and he drove Vladimir Putin on the GAZ-69 when on October 12, 2018, he gave him a tour of Alexandria.

«Payoff on wheels»: Oleksin presented Lukashenka with 9 cars and motorcycles worth €1.5 million

Lukashenka drives Putin to Alexandria, October 12, 2018 / Planetpix / Alamy Stock Photo

It is especially worth mentioning about the BCC Vintage car of 2018 release, which was produced by the Moscow workshop Bilenkin Classic Cars, specializing in the repair and modernization of vintage cars. It is noteworthy that a photo of the interior of this car was posted on the Instagram account of the workshop. It clearly shows the Palace of Independence and the official flag on the front panel. However, after a call from reporters, the company deleted the photo.

«Payoff on wheels»: Oleksin presented Lukashenka with 9 cars and motorcycles worth €1.5 million

Photo of the 2018 BCC Vintage salon on Instagram of the Bilenkin Classic Cars workshop / Instagram / BCC

Nerius Malukiavicius, Lithuanian political scientist, commenting on this information, said that generous gifts create the appearance of «quid pro quo».

«When luxury cars are bought for politicians or organizations, it is reminiscent of a Russian-style payoff […] In democracy, resignations and scandals would follow. In Russia or Belarus, this is a common thing»,– Malukiavicius said.

The investigators asked both Oleksin and Lukashenka’s Administration for comments. Oleksin declined to comment, and the administration did not even respond to a request.

According to the journalists, the motorcycles could well be intended for Viktor Lukashenka, who is an avid biker and Harley-Davidson enthusiast. In 2019, Oleksin even went with him to a Russian motorcycle rally organized by the Iron Birds International Biker Club, co-founded by the son of an authoritarian leader.

As for the cars, Laurinas Bogushiavicius, the director of the Lithuanian dealership Deals on Wheels, estimated them at up to 1.5 million euros (about 1.7 million dollars). According to him, the two Maybachs were particularly valuable and could even cost more than the price indicated.

«These cars are so rare and so few that their price is as high as the seller wishes»,– Bogushiavicius said.

A deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars?

Investigators found that Oleksin’s takeover of wholesales of the Neman factory in 2018 coincided with a record increase in cigarette smuggling into the European Union via Lithuania. Just in 2020, the Lithuanian authorities seized 17.2 million packs of smuggled Belarusian cigarettes, compared to 4.8 million in 2017.

«In recent years, it has become common to find between 1000 and 1500 boxes [up to 750,000 packs] of smuggled cigarettes in one truck, which used to be an exceptional phenomenon»,–said Gediminas Kulikauskas, a representative of the Criminal Justice Service of The Lithuanian Customs.

The thing is that Belarus produces much more cigarettes than the country’s domestic market can absorb. The Neman factory alone produced more than 30 billion cigarettes last year, and domestic consumption is estimated at only 16 billion (data for 2018).

Oleksin’s businesses play a key role in the supply of cigarettes, which are eventually smuggled into the EU. However, the businessman himself categorically denies his involvement in smuggling.

«These are just rumors, and someone is spreading them»,–  he told OCCRP in a short phone interview earlier this year.

By the way, in early November, we released an investigation where we told where the smuggling of Inter Tobacco cigarettes goes, what they are made of, and also found out that today only 3 out of 7 lines work at the Oleksin factory.

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