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Belarus Opposition Candidate ‘Disappears’ As Presidential Election Nears

Update: Belarussian authorities on Thursday detained Babaryko on suspicion of financial crimes, the head of the state control committee said.

“Babaryko is detained because he was the organiser and leader of illegal activities, (and) tried to influence witness testimony,” committee chief Ivan Tertel told reporters. 

A former banker vying to unseat the longtime leader of Belarus briefly disappeared amid a presidential campaign marked by an intensifying crackdown on dissent, his office said Thursday.

Two other candidates seeking to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko in this August’s elections have been jailed over the past month on charges of violating public order and taking part in unauthorized opposition events. Lukashenko himself has slammed opposition activists as “bands of criminals” who want to disrupt the upcoming ballot. 

Former banker Viktor Babaryko and his son were en route to submit some of the 425,000 signatures required to get on the ballot when they stopped answering phone calls, Babaryko’s campaign website said. 

“Viktor and [Babaryko’s son] Eduard are giving testimony,’ which is an investigative action without the presence of lawyers,” his Twitter account wrote.

“Viktor and Eduard’s lawyers were not allowed inside, citing what they called ‘drills’ inside the building,” it added.

Babaryko’s lawyer said he filed a complaint with prosecutors for refusing to let attorneys inside. Later reports said he and his son had been taken by the financial police for questioning. 

Babaryko’s office told Interfax that law enforcement had also searched Babaryko’s home.

Babaryko formerly headed Belgazprombank, a Belarus subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Last week Belarussian investigators raided companies and a bank linked to Babaryko in what he has said were moves designed to pressure him. Authorities blocked his campaign fund Wednesday without disclosing why.

Lukashenko has declined to postpone the vote despite the coronavirus epidemic and has not imposed a lockdown.

The 65-year-old former collective farm director has led the ex-Soviet country since 1994. He will seek a sixth term on Aug. 9. 

AFP contributed reporting to this article.

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