The Belarusian Investigative Center, in partnership with Lithuanian center Siena and with the support of JournalismFund and CyberPartisan, has published an investigation into how businessman Yury Chyzh, a close associate of President Alexander Lukashenko, made over $5 billion in just a year and a half.
Having obtained access to cheap Russian oil from the Belarusian government, Chyzh, with the help of his partner – Lithuanian businessman Witold Tomaszewski – sold it under the guise of solvents. The money they earned was then transferred out of Belarus.
According to the investigation, in August 2011, Tomaszewski set up Savoil LLP – a Singaporean company – to trade fuel and oils. In only five months Chyzh’s partner received $800 million through the firm. By the end of 2012, the new company’s revenue amounted close to five billion dollars.
With Lukashenko's permission, Russian oil products were exported from Belarus without export duty in 2011 and 2012 – under the guise of solvents. Yury Chyzh’s firm, Triple, was also involved in the business.
Belarusian statistics started registering a boom in solvent exports starting September 2011 – one month after Chyzh’s Lithuanian partner registered Savoil LLP.
Yury Chyzh and Witold Tomaszewski have known each other for about 20 years. Since 2005, the Lithuanian had accompanied Chyzh on journeys to Istanbul, Berlin, Paris and other cities, the investigation said.
By the time he had met Tomaszewski, Chyzh had already secured the trust of Lukashenko and gained access to the oil industry. In the early 2000s, Chyzh’s company, Triple replaced the former players in the oil market of Belarus – Yukola, Jurimex, and Schwebel. At the end of the decade, the company entered other industries as well: it founded a pharmaceutical factory, began building housing for the military, and received attractive land plots for construction in Minsk. The businessman himself was then Lukashenko's neighbor in the elite village of Drozdny.
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, put a stop to the solvent scheme in late 2012, according to the investigation.
But the cooperation between Chyzh and Tomaszewski was not over. According to an the extract from the Belarusian Ministry of Justice, they still own a company called NeftekhimTrading LLC. Yury Chyzh owns the firm as an individual, while Tomaszewski owns the company through the British firm Globecast Limited.
In March 2016, Chyzh was prosecuted for large-scale tax evasion. He was sentenced to pay damages of $12 million. In September 2016, the businessman was released, but in March 2021 he was detained on new tax evasion charges. Chyzh was released following a pardon this September, according to media reports.
Chyzh lost Lukashenko's trust but not all of his business and, according to the investigation, still has influential partners and some of his assets were registered to his children.
As for Tomaszewski, his schemes with Chyzh enabled him to buy villas and apartments in Europe, while regional media outlets called him “the richest man” in Lithuania.