30 Nov 2020
It was perhaps the world’s most expensive wedding; an extravaganza costing tens of millions of pounds with performances by Jennifer Lopez, Sting and Enrique Iglesias, a fleet of Rolls Royces to ferry the guests and a 20-year-old bride wearing a $1m dress and a $5m crown.
The groom, Said Gutseriev, had grown up in London and been educated at Harrow School and at Oxford, and his father – one of Russia’s wealthiest oligarchs – could not have been prouder.
But four years on, and the spotlight has now been turned on links between the Gutseriev family and Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator.
Critics of the Belarusian regime have questioned Mikail Gutseriev’s extensive business dealings there, and his use of London as a legal vehicle to channel investments into the country.
They are demanding the British Government and the European Union investigate connections between London and Minsk, and impose sanctions on any oligarchs they accuse of having a close relationship with a dictator accused of vile human rights abuses. For the Gutserievs, it is all a far cry from the frivolity and splendour of that Moscow wedding.
According to official documents lodged at Companies House, Mr Gutseriev and his son Said have the controlling interest in GCM Global Energy PLC, a business registered at an address in Westminster in Central London, and which has ploughed hundreds of millions of pounds into the country.
GCM Global has a number of interests in Belarus, including a deal for a £1bn potash factory that is due to open next year. Mr Gutseriev is also chairman of Russneft, one of Russia’s biggest oil companies, which at the turn of the year became the sole Russian supplier of oil to Belarus.
Said Gutseriev, 32, who lived in London for 17 years until 2014, last year set up Currency.com, a cryptocurrency exchange business based in Minsk. Forbes estimates that Said Gutseriev is worth $1.1bn, and his father twice that.
Mikail Gutseriev, according to reports, became close to President Lukashenko in 2007, when he left Moscow after a dispute with another oligarch and fears he faced persecution, flying first to Minsk, and then on to London in a private jet. He made the UK his home before returning to Russia in 2010.
President Lukashenko, 66, a former Soviet Army officer, has served as Belarus’s first and only president since 1994, and was elected for a sixth time in August this year, prompting widespread protests and a brutal crackdown.
Neither the EU nor the US recognised the election results, and Dominc Raab, the Foreign Secretary, has called the vote-rigging ‘despicable’, and imposed sanctions on the president and senior figures in the regime, in response to the torutre and mistreatment of peaceful protesters.
President Lukashneko was sworn in at a secret inauguration allegedly attended by Mikail Gutseriev.
Flight logs show him arriving in Minsk a day before the inauguration and leaving for Moscow the day after. On October 5, the two men appeared in public, side by side, at the opening of a new church outside Minsk. At the ceremony, Mr Gutseriev said the location was chosen after he and the president “were traveling past this place and the head of state said that it would be good to build a church here”.
Opposition activists called on the British Government to crack down on business links between London and Minsk that they said were helping to prop up the dictatorship.
A spokesman for two anti-Lukashenko groups – The International Strategic Action Network for Security and Creative Politics Hub – said: “We urge the British Government, the EU and the US to put in place urgent sanctions against people like Gutseriev who continue to make large sums of money in Belarus.
By Robert Mendick and Nataliya Vasilyeva, The Telegraph, 29 November 2020
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