The Belarusian authorities ordered state-owned companies to stop using bank accounts and withdraw money from all Russian banks except state-owned ones, reported Belarusian news outlets Naviny.by and TUT.by, citing sources in financial industry.
The order of the Belarusian government concerns the banks with Russian capital, one of the bankers said. This includes the subsidiaries of Sberbank and VEB (BPS-Sberbank and BelVEB), which have traditionally been actively working with Belarusian state-owned companies.
The directive came in the end of May. Companies with the state ownership began receiving letters with the stamp "for official use" from government ministries and concerns.
The Belarusian government didn’t confirm the existence of such a decree. But a number of state-owned companies fulfilled the order. Letters about the requirement to transfer accounts to state-owned banks were sent by Bellegprom (the Belarusian state light industry concern) and the Ministry of Architecture.
There has been no mass avalanche-like outflow of clients from the subsidiaries of Russian state banks, bankers say. In some cases, it is simply impossible to close accounts: it is necessary to repay loans, and not everyone has money.
The initiative was reportedly spearheaded by the Office of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, sources agree.
Last week, on Lukashenko's personal order, the Belarusian security forces raided the Minsk office of Gazprom-owned Belgazprombank, where they seized $4 million in cash, securities, gold, as well as a collection of paintings worth $20 million.
Top managers of the bank were detained on charges of tax evasion and creation of an organized criminal group. Once behind bars, they gave confessions against the former head of the bank Viktor Babariko, who ran for the presidency of Belarus in the upcoming elections in August.
On Thursday, Babariko was detained and placed in a KGB detention center. Ivan Tertel, head of the State Control Committee of Belarus, said that top-ranking "heads of Gazprom" were involved in illegal activities in the bank".
The Kremlin sends Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to reach an agreement with Lukashenko. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Belarus' actions would not go unanswered.
"Such accusations against respected international companies cannot be unanswered. The interests of Russian companies, especially economic giants, are always protected by the Russian state," Peskov said.
He added that the protection of Russian companies operating in other countries, including Belarus, is "one of the priorities" for the Russian governent.