Businesspeople belonging to the Presidential Sports Club (PSC) often receive government protection in addition to various benefits and privileges.
BIC has already released an investigation detailing how the Lukashenko family is profiting through the PSC. The BelAZ Trading House in Russia, which has a monopoly on Zhodzina farm machinery, sells it through private companies run by company dealers' wives who have a relationship with Anna Lukashenko, the spouse of President Lukashenko's middle son Dzmitry. The club has also been involved in lotteries, construction, and printing over the years.
One important figure has ties to both Lukashenko's family and the Presidential Sports Club. Uladzimir Kulakou is married to Tatsiana Kulakova, the sister of Dmitry Lukashenko's wife. Based on data from the Unified State Register of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs of Belarus, he has led the Tennis Club, a subdivision of the Presidential Sports Club, since 2011. [*] [*] [*] [*] [*] He is also part-owner of the Fabriq restaurant in Minsk. [*] [*] Other popular food spots, like Balkon, Paul (a French café-bakery chain), Grand Cafe, and Blondes and Brunettes (at the time of publication closed), have ties to the Presidential Sports Club. In a talk with the BIC, restaurateur Vadim Prokopiev called their owners “second tier".
“These are businessmen from Minsk who are affiliated with the regime, but are able to remain low-key unlike well-known individuals such as Mikalai Varabei, Shakutsin, and the Karić brothers. This layer is second tier, as I would call it, it is interesting to me, the regime is also based on it. <…> I am sure that they feed, at a minimum, the security forces..”
BIC also located cafes and restaurants belonging to businessmen or members of their families mentioned in this investigation.
Links with room to grow
Their association with the Tennis Club significantly impacted the operations of Minsk restaurant owners Ivan Malko and Ilya Rybakou. Their businesses grew after working at the PSC and meeting Lukashenko's in-law Uladzimir Kulakou.
Ivan Malko was a director at the Tennis Club from 2009 to 2011. [*] His business associate, an athlete, and graduate of the Military Academy Ihar Lakhvich, was assigned as deputy. [*] Lakhvich currently heads the Belarusian Beach Tennis Federation, which was established with PSC support.
According to a source close to Malko, he began forging closer ties with persons affiliated with the PSC as early as the 2000s:
"Malko had tennis courts. They were located in Sevastopalski Park, and he sold these courts in 2000 for a lot of money to the Presidential Sports Club. From that moment on, he began to buddy up with Viktor [Lukashenko]. He was also on good terms with Dmitry (Lukashenko).]"
Ivan Malko wanted to join Lukashenko's inner circle well before the official partnership with the Presidential Sports Club, because the business prospects were clearly better there. Vadim Prokopiev, Malko's former business partner and restaurateur, shared with the BIC:
"He had a chance to be introduced to Dmitry Lukashenko, and they became friends. Dzmitry came once to Ivan's birthday party in Raubichy, and there were quite a lot of Minsk businessmen there, and, in general, all of them were surprised at that moment, because after all, it was not a common thing.”
According to a different BIC source who knows Malko, he was proud to talk about his friendship with Aleksandr Lukashenko's sons: "Older men and young ladies were amazed as Ivan told them about his friendship (with the Lukashenkos), how he was accepted at all the residences and bathhouses, and how they had gone on trips together."
Rybakou was a co-owner of the Tennis Club from November 2011 to May 2012. He held 49 percent of its shares. [*] The club is now wholly owned by the PSC.
Malko and Rybakou started doing business together when Malko worked as General Director at Closed Joint Stock Company (CJSC) Expo-Travel. [*] Rybakou joined the company as a deputy. [*] In 2002, they founded the Tourtila Travel Agency. [*] [*]
"Ilya Rybakou isn't a close friend. He's a classmate of Ivan (Malko), who has put him in charge of finances. This person oversees the finances of all of Malko's projects. Malko is pretty clever. He never wanted to be on any official documents," a source familiar with Rybakou told BIC.
Another source who knows Malko and Rybakou confirmed that Rybakou has been overseeing Malko's finances for decades. "He (Rybakou) is responsible for all the money matters, including those on and off the books, offshore accounts and all paperwork-related tasks."
In 2006 and 2007, Malko worked as an assistant deputy in Parliament while also running his own business. He went on to work in the Standing Committee of the Union State of Belarus and Russia in 2007 and 2008. [*]
Anatoli Sadouski is the head of a well-known business clan in Minsk.
At present, his name does not appear on ownership documents. His wife Ludmila and son Ihar own all the businesses. [*]
Fabriq is managed by Natallia Sadouskaya (Yarmolenka), the daughter of Anatoli Sadouski. [*] She married the son of Alesya, a well-known Belarusian singer. Alesya's spouse is a former partner of well-connected businessman Siarhei Tsiatseryn. In 2020, Natallia took over as head of the Association of Restaurateurs of Belarus from Vadim Prokopiev. That same year, she was spotted at Aleksandr Lukashenko's post-election secret inauguration.
A restaurant empire with a Lebanese flavor
Malko and Rybakou's restaurant business has grown significantly since about 2010. In the past 10 years, they have become sole or partial owners of over a dozen spots including Grand Cafe, News Cafe (opened in 2006), Rosso Espresso Bar, and the Blondes and Brunettes Club.
Probably, Malko had to strike a deal with the Belarusian special services for the chance to build a restaurant empire, Vadim Prokopiev shared his view with the BIC investigator.
“Essentially, an Operative Analytical Center officer... became Malko's closest friend and associate. In general, the deal could look as follows: ‘Mr Malko, you can keep stripping hapless Minsk businessmen. but we need you to provide information about who they are connected to, what they have been doing, their bank accounts, their money, their secret lovers, their personal lives, and their property stored abroad. Your task is not to become impudent. You can do everything, except in cases of committing serious and especially serious crimes’ - which Mr Malko did and, of course, he enjoyed some minor benefits such as being dismissed when drink and driving, procuring passports, and other small matters. These services were all included in the package.”
A Lebanese-origin Belarusian businessman, Romeo Abdo, helped Malko and Rybakou advance their business interests. Reports assume that he is linked to Aleksandr Lukashenko "moneybags" Aliaksei Aleksin, Aliaksandr Shakutsin, and Mikalai Varabei. Abdo was mentioned in a money laundering scandal story in Nepal.
Investigative reporters from the international network OCCRP assert that Abdo is the owner of BNK Holding. In 2007, Abdo along with Nepalese investors completed several construction projects in Belarus, including a shopping mall and the Rubin Plaza and Silver Tower business centers.
Malko and Abdo are good friends. According to a source from the businessman's entourage,
"While the Galileo shopping center was under construction, when visiting the site, Malko told Abdo: 'We're placing our restaurants on every floor in your trendiest areas.' And Romeo just offered him a super low rent as a friend. I mean, not like everyone else's, but super low. It cost three or four times less than what everyone else was paying. And Malko chose the locations. Union Coffee was on the second floor, and upstairs near the movie theater they put the Balkon cafe."
In 2012, Malko became the owner of Sportunion-Delta, with Rybakou subsequently appointed to manage. This company owns the restaurant Café de Paris, which is part of Union Hospitality Group. [*] [*] [*][*]
Simultaneously, the businessmen registered a company called Simple Projects. Rybakou later sold his share to Tirmen Development. Also in 2012, Malko co-founded Joint limited liability company (JLLC) International Franchising. Both companies were in the restaurant services business. [*] [*] [*] [*] [*] [*]
Tirmen Development is a Virgin Islands offshore company indirectly linked to Abdo's firms. It owned six of Rybakou and Malko's companies.
In 2013, through the Cypriot offshore Malsim Limited, Malko purchased LLC Savana-Sport Trading, the current owner of the Paul chain of French cafes. [*] [*] [*] [*] Previously, it also owned the Russian restaurant chain Kroshka Kartoshka.
In February 2018, Malko obtained shares in the Renaissance restaurant (LLC Polivektor). [*] [*] He became a co-owner of LLC Kiko International Plus, which possesses another Paul location. Rybakou took over the management of the company. [*] [*] [*]
Three months before Malko and Rybakou's arrival at Kiko International Plus, the company was registered. Soon after, Siarhei Kananenka and Dzmitry Kirylau withdrew as co-owners. In 2020, these businessmen were involved in a well-known legal case in Belarus over corruption allegations related to the sugar industry.
Proactive approach to sanctions
According to a BIC source, Malko and his family currently reside in Spain while still conducting business in Belarus. After the 2020 election protests, Malko assigned the largest assets to his wife (now officially ex-wife) and daughter. As of November 2023, ownership of all companies that possess restaurant establishments belonging to Union Hospitality Group has been passed on to wife Katsiaryna and daughter Alena Malko, as well as to Tirmen Development, an offshore business in the Virgin Islands indirectly connected to Abdo's enterprises. [*]
Katsiaryna and Tirmen Development own Café de Paris, Michel Café, the Balkon restaurant and Milano Café and in equal shares through different companies. Alena Malko and Tirmen Development own the Paul chain of French café-bakeries. Ivan Malko still owns 3.1% of LLC Polivektor, which formerly possessed the Renaissance eatery situated on Internatsiyanalnaya Street.
There are privileges to being close to Aleksandr Lukashenko's family. A business source familiar with Malko says the businessman managed to get the premises for the Blondes and Brunettes Club thanks to the PSC.
"It was all handled through the Presidential Sports Club. Because Malko then bragged that if it wasn't for the Presidential Sports Club, this facility wouldn't exist."
Restaurateur Vadim Prokopiev explained the way in which the business could be handled through the PSC.
“There is Dmitry Lukashenko's right-hand man, nicknamed ‘Red-haired’, whose name is Andrei Karpovich in the Presidential Sports Club. I might be mistaken about the real name, but it can be verified. Karpovich has been a real lifesaver for Malko, helping him out of many unpleasant situations. Malko was grateful to him and returned the favor by buying gifts, sending Karpovich on trips, and organizing everything he might need.”
Another example is the Podium Star company. It possesses the well-known eatery Fabriq (an establishment that cost around $1.5 million) and rents property situated in the center of Minsk (1 Peramozhtsau Avenue). Each year the Podium Star shareholders' meeting considers a rent rebate for the establishment. To BIC's knowledge, no such meetings have been held for other tenants. This is evidenced by information on the landlord OJTC Tsentr Mody’s official website.
The present owners of Fabriq, the Sadouskis, were not associated with the Presidential Sports Club. But in 2015, Aleksandr Lukashenko's relative Uladzimir Kulakou obtained a 25 percent share of Podium Star. In 2019, Kulakou brought his sister Hanna to Fabriq. Hanna had previously worked at a place called Angels owned by Sadouski, and before that, at the Tennis Club.
Hanna Kulakova is also a part owner of LLC Restaurant Gatsby, which was established in 2019 and is located in the village of Karaliou Stan, Minsk District.
The building that houses Fabriq, OJTC Tsentr Mody, is owned by companies linked to the Sadouskis, according to media reports. In 2019, Ihar Sialitski, then-director of Tsentr Mody, announced that Fabriq was renting the space on special terms. He stated this after he found out about his firing on December 16, 2019. This happened after he was given a Certificate of Honour by the Minsk City Council earlier that month. He threatened to sue Podium Star to collect fees and penalties for late rental payments.
The state owns 39.99% of the company and Bellegprom controls it. [*] As the media wrote, 44% of the company's shares are believed to be owned by LLC Stolichnaya Restoratsiya, which belongs to Ihar Sadouski, and by LLC Avalanche, which he manages. LLC Marupe, managed by Ihar Sadouski's wife Maryna, also holds shares. [*] [*] [*] [*] [*] [*]
Until May 2022, LLC Marupe was owned by Maksim Darafeyeu. He co-founded Golden Project MNT until 2021, which is now owned by Sadouski's partner Siarhei Pushnoi. [*] [*] Transactions between OJTC Tsentr Mody and LLC Podium Star, who are associated parties, are supported by 2023 records of the Unified Financial Market Web Portal.
According to documents in BIC's possession, the Sadouskis were paying approximately $10.80 per square meter for the Fabriq restaurant space in August 2023. To check the market rate for such premises, we called one of the largest real estate agencies in Minsk, posing as potential tenants, and asked how much a similar space with 1,500 square meters would cost. We were offered a space on Internatsiyanalnaya Street for $17.70 per square meter.
We also checked the prices of similar premises owned by the Main Economic Department of the Presidential Administration and found an offer of $6.30 per square meter in the center of Minsk. But these spaces are empty. There are probably reasons why tenants are not attracted to Presidential Administration ownership even at such affordable prices.
After the Sadouski started working with Kulakou, new companies and restaurants opened almost every year. In the noughties, Anatoli Sadouski was selling fertilizers. In September 2015, Ihar Sadouski and his mother became owners of LLC Stolichnaya Restoratsiya. In November 2015, that company acquired a stake in the ownership company that later opened the Gan Bei's restaurant, Restline. [*] [*]
In March 2017, Stolichnaya Restoratsiya helped establish Globus Gourmet. Later that year, in November the same company partnered with Ihar Sadouski and a colleague to launch LLC Tsentrokhleb, which owns restaurants under the Kinza brand. [*] [*] [*] [*]
In late summer 2020, Stolichnaya Restoratsiya, owned by Anatoli Sadouski, acquired 75% of OGK Stolitsa. This company possesses Grand Cafe, News Cafe, Rosso espresso bar, and the former Blondes and Brunettes club. OGK Stolitsa is the same company that was founded by Malko, Rybakou and Lakhvich in 2005. Another 10% of the company shares is now owned by the Lithuanian firm Asmela, and the remaining 15% are held by Oleg Okhrem. Olding, a company previously owned by Okhrem, was embroiled in an education-fraud scandal during the 90s. In 2014, its director was Anatoli Sadouski.
Olding was later transformed into LLC BC Time and now rents out its premises. Ihar Sadouski runs BC Time, and his company Stolichnaya Restoratsiya has a 0.1% stake in BC Time. The Latvian LLC Stolitsa owns 99.9% of the remaining shares. Smart Enterprise LTD, the beneficiary of LLC Stolitsa, is an offshore company registered in Seychelles. The same Seychelles-based company co-founded Podium Star before Uladzimir Kulakou became one of the owners.
According to media reports, he is said to be connected to the Latvian branch of the Golden Coffee chain. Apart Invest's 2022 accounts show that the company has only €1,837 in circulating assets and equity. [*]
Sadouski's Gan Bei and Golden Coffee were located in the Green City shopping center. Another Gan Bei was locaed in Dana Mall. In 2022, Sadouski sold these assets to his partner Siarhei Pushnoi. Dana Mall is a property owned by the Karić brothers, said to be Aleksandr Lukashenko "moneybags". The mall also houses a gallery for Lilia Lukashenko, who is the spouse of Viktor, the firstborn son of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Green City was owned by the Presidential Sports Club until 2018. [*] [*]
Being associated with the Presidential Sports Club offers stability. For Minsk restaurateurs, being a tenant can be problematic if the owner or co-owner of the premises is the state. According to a BIC source, in the city center where PSC-affiliated restaurants have opened, the lease is usually for a maximum of five years:
"After five years, if you don't have the backing anymore, you just get kicked out of there."
Uladzimir Kulakou stated in a conversation with BIC that this can be a problem for businessmen. Also, Dmitry Lukashenko’s relative, co-owner of one of the most expensive restaurants in Minsk, Fabriq, said that there have been no “roofs” in Belarus since the 90s, and he personally hasn't people who could be these “roofs”. He also stated he hasn't been the director of the Tennis Club for seven years. He insisted that the Presidential Sports Club is not related to his Fabriq restaurant, except for the "except if sometimes one of the workers maybe comes there to eat".
We sent an official enquiry to LLC Podium Star and Romeo Abdo, but had not heard back by the time of publication. Katsiaryna Malko, co-owner of Union Hospitality Group, refused to speak to us on the phone, as did Ilya Rybakou and Ihar Sadouski. The latter threatened to report BIC to the police.
BIC does not have confirmation of the information given in the source quotations.
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