Belarus fertilizers sanction-busting schemes revealed

A chain of companies has been enabling the sale of fertilizers in Europe while circumventing EU sanctions, filling the pockets of Belarusian officials, and weakening the EU’s ability to put pressure on Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, a journalistic investigation revealed on Monday, February 20.

Grodno Azot is the only Belarusian facility to produce carbamide fertilizer. It hasn’t been able to sell its products to the EU since December 2021. This is because the EU says it fired and threatened workers who took part in protests after the 2020 presidential election.

The Belarus Investigative Center (BIC), in partnership with the Siena Lithuanian Investigations Website, identified two shell companies that helped Grodno Azot circumvent EU sanctions. One of them transports fertilizer on trucks; the other one uses rail.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s cronies are among the people who benefit from these schemes, and investigations have shown that Belarusian authorities are directly involved.

Ambush on the border

During the night of February 13-14, Rabochy Rukh (Workers’ Movement) activists ambushed Belarusian trucks loaded with sanctioned products. The first truck passed through Lithuanian customs late at night but was blocked by the activists. The driver, visibly confused, presented documents showing the truck transports fertilizers from the sanctioned Grodno Azot company into Europe.

Stanislau Ivashkevich, the head of the Belarusian Investigative Center, covered the action as a correspondent. He was able to talk to the truck driver, and the driver told him that the truck was full at Grodno Azot. About an hour later, the activists blocked another truck, and its driver also confirmed that he transports Grodno Azot fertilizer.

Lithuanian police and border patrol arrived and asked the activists to stop the blockade, but they refused. After midnight, customs officers arrived, and the two intercepted trucks were taken for additional inspection. The next day, Lithuanian customs began an internal check for possible violations of international sanctions.

The same morning, Grodno Azot executives gathered for a meeting that continued for several hours. BIC journalists managed to speak to the plant’s general director, Igor Lyashenko, but he refused to discuss the interception of trucks at the border or to comment on documents in the possession of the investigative journalists that shed light on the schemes used by Grodno Azot to skirt sanctions.

Hrodna shell company

BIC journalists found out that Grodno Azot uses a shell company, Grikom, managed by Viktar Rusak, to bypass EU sanctions and export fertilizers to the EU.

Rusak has worked for Grodno Azot for more than 30 years, where he held different positions. From 2016–2019, he also served as a member of Parliament. In the 2020 presidential election, he headed the election commission at a polling station in the Grodno Azot dormitory.

Rusak was put in charge of Grikom, a company started the day before and owned by the Hrodna Executive Committee, in July 2021. Its obvious aim was to replace, on paper, the sanctioned Grodno Azot as a supplier of fertilizers to the West.

The Rabochy Rukh activists found papers on the trucks they had stopped on the Lithuanian border, printed on Grodno Azot’s official template, clearly stating that the fertilizer was loaded at Grodno Azot and bearing the seal of the company. They also obtained a carbamide quality certificate that specifies Grodno Azot as the fertilizer manufacturer. BIC also got a copy of a contract that says Grikom will sell Grodno Azot products.

They also found a contract between Grikom and the Serbian company Wakler. It says that Grikom has to give Serbia about €20 million worth of carbamide in one year. It should be noted that Serbia has joined the EU sanctions against Grodno Azot.

At the same time, BIC journalists learned from the drivers that Serbian customers’ trucks are loaded with fertilizers at Grodno Azot, and drivers put their signatures on the company’s official forms.

This is how BIC discovered that it was for the Serbian company Wakler that the trucks intercepted at the border were carrying carbamide. Journalists asked Željko Erceg, the director and co-owner of Wakler, to comment. He claimed that he was not aware of any wrongdoing.

Grikom director Viktar Rusak refused to comment. Sources close to Rabochy Rukh said that he signed documents that helped Grodno Azot plant managers get around sanctions.

Dubai offshore

In October 2022, the Belarus Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade gave the small Belarusian company Technospectreiding a one-time export license so that it could send carbamide abroad.

The buyer was the Emirati firm DP World Commodities and Logistics FZE, which shared the registration address with the Dubai port operator, DP World. Journalists from Siena found documents showing that Technospectreiding was planning to supply 30,000 metric tons of carbamide to the Emirates, worth €15 million.

The copies of cargo documents obtained by BIC helped them trace this fertilizer’s delivery route and find evidence of sanctions evasion. Along the way, they found the regular protagonists of their previous investigations.

Journalists discovered that the quality certificate Technospectreiding used to supply carbamide to Dubai meets the GOST 2081-2010 standard. The same product is manufactured in Belarus only by Grodno Azot. This was confirmed by two independent sources – Yury Ravavy, a former Grodno Azot worker who headed the plant strike committee, and Arminas Kildišis, a Lithuanian fertilizer expert.

Technospectreiding claims to be both a supplier and producer of carbamide, which sounds more than suspicious.

BIC journalists visited Technospectreiding headquarters to seek official commentary. International contracts for the company suggest that it has a large facility. However, the company was registered in a small cottage in a Minsk suburb, and there was no sign of carbamide production.

Several of the facts found in the investigation suggest that Grodno Azot is using Technospectreiding as another front company. According to analysts, the Emirati buyers need no carbamides and are used just as a cover, while the fertilizer ends up in Europe.

“Carbamide is exported to countries where ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate are not used.” “These are mainly France and Germany,” fertilizer expert Arminas Kildišis commented.

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