There are quite a lot of casinos in Belarus. But the proceeds from gambling establishments to the state treasury of Belarus cannot be called large. True, there is no one to ask about this either, because the owners of large Belarusian casinos carefully hide behind a network of offshore companies. However, the Belarusian Investigative Center managed to get to the bottom of the matter and revealed not only the beneficiaries, but also the dubious schemes of their work.
When from July 1, 2009 the casino in Russia and how before Ukraine – turned out to be outside the law – sheltered the exiles Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus had every chance to take a leading position in this area. With a competent approach, a highly profitable business should become an additional source of replenishment of the budget. But Belarus did not get rich on the gambling industry.
The total tax income of Belarus from the gambling business, which runs more than 25 land-based casinos, is about $40 million a year. This is only 0.4% of tax revenues of the budget. For comparison, in four millionth Georgia, where 17 offline casinos, due to gambling taxes, about 5% of budget revenues are formed – the industry brings about $ 100 million a year to the treasury. Another 6.5 million is invested in sports. Where does the money go in Belarus? An idea of this can be obtained by the example of the activities of one player in the Belarusian market.
It opened in mid-2021 and in 6 months earned much more than the old-timers of the market. Profits exceeded $7.5 million.
According to a former employee of H Casino, this business in the center of Minsk was in full swing not according to Belarusian, but rather Turkish laws. The scheme of work, according to the former croupier, looked as follows. Turkish citizens who wanted to go on the so-called junket tour visited the office in Istanbul, where they left a certain amount to play in the Minsk casino. In the Belarusian capital, they first played for the minimum amount. Then the players received, bypassing the cashier, plastic chips for the amount within their Istanbul deposit. The final calculation was carried out upon returning home. According to a former employee of the casino, thanks to this scheme, the institution could attract customers with the program of the most profitable discount. This is when, even with a complete loss, the player is returned a certain percentage of the amount invested in the game. It got to the point that from 50 thousand dollars of loss to the guests they returned up to 40-45%. This applied not only to players from Turkey, but also from Israel.
Turkish businessman Egemen Mustafa Sener is said to be the owner of this casino.
He became famous in his homeland for his generosity, with which he paid for flights to Minsk and performances by Turkish artists for the gambling public. Turkish media wrote about millions of dollars in fees.
The same Turkish media wondered about the possible connection of Egemen Mustafa Şener with another businessman. Khalil Falyali,
whom put on the wanted list in the United States in 2015 and charged with international money laundering and drug trafficking. He was shot dead in Cyprus in February 2022. Our source calls the late Falyali an investor in the Minsk “H Casino”.
In 2011, Boettcher was put on the wanted list. He was suspected of running illegal casinos in Russia. BUT newspaper Izvestiyathat the illegal gambling club “Shangri La” even operated in the Belarusian embassy in Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry handed a diplomatic note to the official Minsk. Representative of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Savinykh criticized Izvestia, saying that all this “sensational fake”. But publicly, Minsk did not respond to the Russian note. Shangri La publicly denied involvement in the illegal gambling business, but subsequently admitted their guilt and paid a fine.
At the height of the scandal, the Cypriot company Roslaton Holdings Limited appeared among the co-owners of Shangri La in Belarus.
The owners of this firm are hidden in a deep chain of offshore nominees. But after studying all the documents of this company, which were obtained thanks to the OCCRP Center for the Study of Corruption and Organized Crime, a Belarusian trace was discovered. In 2019, in one of its reports, the Cypriot company indicated an affiliate, that is, a legal entity associated with it.
We are talking about the UAE company “PETROTRADE FZE”, the owner and director of which is Dmitry Oleksin,
son of the so-called tobacco king Alexey Oleksin.
But, just in that year, when Oleksin’s PETROTRADE FZE appeared in the reports of Roslaton Holdings Limited, this company withdrew from the shareholders of the management company of the Belarusian Shangri La. And this share was transferred to another Cypriot company – DEMISTAT.
Another offshore company, Tenolet Limited, was found among the owners of DEMISTAT. As previously reported, Oleksin’s offshore transactions with the participation of this firm were processed by a large Eastern European offshore provider called Lewben. As we found out during our previous investigation, Lewben could help Belarusian oligarchs launder money through Lithuania.
Dmitry Oleksin did not comment on the work of the Shangri La casino in Minsk.
and “M1” – on the border of Belarus with Russia.
They occupy a total of more than 7 thousand square meters of space, where there are card tables, American roulette tables and hundreds of slot machines.
The casino was founded by Russian Mikhail Kuznetsov, after which he transferred control to the Cypriot company MONARY LIMITED and Russian Mikhail Konstantinov. In 2021, the owners earned almost $15 million from two Belarusian casinos.
However, according to insiders, the Cypriot company and the Russian businessman are actually Anton Bazhanov,
who was under arrest as part of a criminal case in Russia for organizing a network of underground casinos.
Based on the results of studying many offshore transactions, the following picture emerges. MONARY LIMITED is nominally owned by Cypriot Tonia Antoniou (Tonya Antonina).
But as follows from the Ukrainian register of legal entities, its ultimate owner is a Russian businessman Andrey Myslivtsev. And he, in turn, owned another offshore company on behalf of the aforementioned Anton Bazhanov. also in “Pandora’s Archive” we found that Bazhanov twice issued powers of attorney for the founder of the same two largest casinos in Belarus – Mikhail Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used to work for Bazhanov’s firm.
And here’s another proof. Built casino “M1” Belarusian company “BelRosTorgSbyt”. A quarter of it belongs to the same Andrey Myslivtsev, and half belongs to the Cypriot company Mauretti Trading.
For a long time it was owned by two offshore companies from the British Virgin Islands,
behind which Bazhanov was hiding.
Andrei Myslivtsev declined to comment. The BelRosTorgSbyt company said that they did not know the owners of the MONARY LIMITED company. We also sent inquiries to the M1 and Opera casinos, but have not yet received a response.
By the way, the Opera casino has been closed since March 14. This decision was made by management. “Until the end of April, we don’t work for sure yet, and we still don’t understand how we will work in May. It has nothing to do with the crown. Now is not the time, but they don’t give us a specific reason, ”they said by the contact number of the gambling establishment and offered to use the services of another casino they manage – M1.
Material prepared with the participation of ID OCCRP