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February 5 – February 11, 2024
Security issues

The KGB is cracking down on Belarusian elites

The situation got worse
The KGB is cracking down on Belarusian elites
Карикатура: Вася Ложкин

The recent appointment of a former KGB member to head the Department of Financial Investigations (DFI) indicates the KGB’s growing influence within this power structure. With this move, the KGB gains an additional tool for financial intelligence. By collaborating with units of the State Control Committee (SCC), the KGB aims not only to intensify the fight against “extremists” and “terrorists” but also to instill discipline among the Belarusian elites. This is expected to be achieved through new criminal cases targeting corruption at the highest levels of power.

In early February, Lukashenka appointed Andrei Sambuk as the new head of the Financial Investigations Department (DFI) of the State Control Committee (SCC). Sambuk previously led the investigative department of the KGB. The position had been vacant since the end of November when the former head of the DFI, Igar Marshalau, was appointed as the ambassador to Zimbabwe.

The selection of a KGB veteran for this role followed significant arrests within the DFI. In recent weeks, the KGB has detained officers from the central apparatus and departments in Minsk and the Minsk region. Approximately two dozen senior security officials face charges under Articles 430 (bribery) and 424 (abuse of official authority).

Simultaneously, Kanstantsin Bychak was appointed as the head of the KGB investigative department. The former deputy head of the unit is known for his sudden participation in online events organized by Belarusian democratic forces in exile. Bychak also regularly serves as the KGB’s main spokesperson on political matters related to protests in Belarus and the war in Ukraine.

Both appointments underscore the growing repressive trend within law enforcement agencies. Moreover, they signify a strengthening of the KGB’s position, now equipped with an additional financial intelligence tool. The new leadership of the DFI is expected to address not only corruption and internal organization issues after widespread arrests but also to play a more active role in combating crimes related to financing terrorist and extremist activities.

In 2023, the DFI focused on suppressing tax crimes, dismantling channels for financing extremist and terrorist activities, and tackling the illegal circulation of cryptocurrencies. A total of 703 crimes were identified, including 369 categorized as serious.

Previously, another division of the SCC, the Financial Monitoring Department (FMD), adopted a new technology for combating money laundering and terrorist financing, received from Russian partners. In 2023, the FMD identified “suspicious financial transactions related to money laundering and the financing of illegal activities.” Almost 1.3 thousand information and analytical materials were forwarded to law enforcement and regulatory authorities of Belarus and financial intelligence units of foreign countries. The emphasis was on “monitoring financial transactions with cryptocurrencies and the financing of destructive forces.”

Considering Bychak’s background, his main objective will be to actively update the lists of “terrorists and extremists” and combat corruption within the power structure. Clearly, recent appointments are linked to increased vigilance in anticipation of election campaigns, starting from the Unified Voting Day (February 25) to the first meeting of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (no later than April 25). This is not only about the security forces opposing potential activities of remnants of the defeated Belarusian civil society but also about gaining control over the Belarusian political elites. As the transition of power approaches, representatives of the political elites are increasingly considering direct relations with the Kremlin, bypassing intermediaries such as Lukashenka and his associates.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.
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