As a participant in the Dubai Unlocked project, BIC gained access to leaked property data in Dubai.

Minsk. Spiral towers of glass and concrete surround a 35-floor skyscraper. On man-made canals, gondolas float slowly. This is how the architectural concept of the Minsk Lighthouse residential estate was described in 2008. But the estate built has nothing to do with the description. It was commissioned in 2020 by the company of Serbian businessmen Karićes, part of the Dana Holdings construction group. The description provided is more akin to the views from the windows of the apartments owned by the Karićes’ and their family members in the UAE. The purchase of this real estate was financed in part by profits generated through collaboration with the Belarusian authorities. The BIC has identified six apartments on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah Island that are linked to the clan.

Created in partnership with the OCCRP and supported by CyberPartisans, this piece is part of the international project Dubai Unlocked.

The Karić brothers – Bogoljub and Dragomir – are well known in Belarus for major construction projects in Minsk and their links to the family of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Since at least 2011, they have regularly shared flights to Turkey and Greece with his official wife Galina, their eldest son Viktor and his wife Lilia – apparently on holiday. However, it is mainly business matters that link the Serbian businessmen with the Belarusian most important politician.

In 2011, the majority of residential construction projects in the capital were implemented by state-owned enterprises. By 2020, however, 90 per cent of new homes in the city will be built by private companies. Some of the largest developers were Dana Holdings group firms, including IOOO Zomex Investment (renamed OOO Emirates Blue Sky in February 2020), IOOO Dana Astra and SOOO Belinte-Roba, all of which are associated with the Karić family.

Bogoljub Karić, Dragomir Karić, Nebojša Karić
Source: BIC / Bogoljub Karić, Dragomir Karić, Nebojša Karić

The personal connections of the Serbian businessmen with the Belarusian authorities enabled them to receive preferential treatment from the state in the form of tax benefits and free land for construction. This information became known to us in 2019. In 2021, the BIC, in collaboration with OCCRP, conducted an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Karićes’ acquisition of approximately one billion dollars worth of land at no cost.

In 2022, the BIC discovered a scheme to transfer tax-exempt corporate profits from Belarus to the Karić. Further investigation of their business activities revealed the purchase of elite apartments, presumably financed by funds generated in Belarus.

Our investigation forms part of the international Dubai Unlocked project, which has been made possible by the use of leaked Dubai real estate data for 2020 and 2022.

The data was obtained by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that specializes in research on international crime and conflict. The information was then shared with the Norwegian Financial Intelligence Unit (E24) and the Centre for Corruption and Organised Crime Research (OCCRP), which coordinated the investigative project with dozens of media outlets around the world, including the BIC.

A family seat on Palm Jumeirah

According to leaked Dubai property records, at least six apartments in the UAE have been bought by the Karić businessmen and their family members. The accommodation is located on Palm Jumeirah Island, an archipelago shaped like a palm tree. The most expensive apartments in Dubai are located there in numerous residential estates with sea views.

In 2019, Nebojša Karić, son of Bogoljub, purchased a 222m2 apartment for approximately $900,000. The premises are situated on the 11th floor of the Emerald building of the Tiara Residence.

An apartment of the same size and number of bedrooms as Nebojša Karić’s in the Emerald building of the Tiara Residence on Palm Jumeirah
Source: propsearch.ae / An apartment of the same size and number of bedrooms as Nebojša Karić’s in the Emerald building of the Tiara Residence on Palm Jumeirah

Bogoljub’s wife Milanka owned another apartment in the same estate. When it was bought in 2011, it cost around $600,000. In 2023, the Karić family sold the apartment for $150,000 more.

From 2021 to 2023, the Karićes owned a 160m2 apartment on the 13th floor of the Oceana Southern estate. The buyer of the property worth more than $700,000 was Nebojša Karić’s wife, Kseniya Lukhnova Karic – a Belarusian who worked for Dana Holdings. [*] [*] [*] The Dubai apartment became Kseniya’s property in April 2021. A year ago it was sold for almost twice that amount.

An apartment of the same size and number of bedrooms as Kseniya Lukhnova Karic’s in the Oceana Southern estate on Palm Jumeirah
Source: propsearch.ae / An apartment of the same size and number of bedrooms as Kseniya Lukhnova Karic’s in the Oceana Southern estate on Palm Jumeirah

At the same time as Kseniya, Maša Nikolić-Karić, the wife of Nebojša’s cousin Bojan, got an apartment in the UAE. The property comprises a 210m² apartment on the eighth floor of a building in the Aquamarine estate, part of the Tiara Residence. Panoramic windows overlook the Persian Gulf, which can also be admired from a huge terrace.

3D visualisation of an apartment with the same size and number of bedrooms as Maša Nikolić-Karić’s in the Aquamarine estate at Tiara Residence on Palm Jumeirah
Source: Bayut Area Guides / 3D visualisation of an apartment with the same size and number of bedrooms as Maša Nikolić-Karić’s in the Aquamarine estate at Tiara Residence on Palm Jumeirah

Before Maša Nikolić-Karić, the apartment belonged to the son of Ukrainian businessman Vyacheslav Bohuslayev, Oleksandr. 

Five years ago the Belarusian authorities nationalized the Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant. One of its founders was the Motor Sich company, headed by Bohuslayev Sr. The businessman is currently in custody in Ukraine. He is a suspected collaborator, accused of supplying attack helicopter engines to Russia. Read more about Bohuslayev and his Dubai properties in the Schemes show investigation (Ukrainian office of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).

The BIC found out that Maša Nikolić-Karić’s apartment is mortgaged, which would suggests that she bought it on credit. It is currently rented by a Serbian national on a 4-year lease paying $40,000 per annum.

Bogoljub Karić and his daughter Danica were also the owners of a 200-square-metres apartment on Palm Jumeirah. Danica sold her apartment to influential Emirati businessman Sultan Omran Alhallami. The apartment was also registered to her minor son Petar.

Source: BIC
Source: OCCRP
Source: OCCRP

Erroneous sanctions?

Our partners in the Dubai Unlocked project, the OCCRR reporters, contacted Bogoljub Karić for comment, but he had his lawyer William Julié reply. The latter assured that Bogoljub Karić is a law-abiding citizen and “a fervent advocate of liberalism values”. That’s why he first developed his business in communist Yugoslavia and then, at the invitation of Mikhail Gorbachev, came to the USSR to share his experience. According to the lawyer, Bogoljub had only one meeting with Aleksandr Lukashenko – in 2015. The businessman is now retired and no longer in business, and neither are any of his family members. Bogoljub has been wrongly placed under EU sanctions, says William Julié, and he is now taking legal action to have them lifted.

Bogoljub Karić was sanctioned by the EU in June 2022 for supporting and benefiting from the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Earlier, in December 2020, Dana Holdings and Dana Astra were sanctioned by the EU and the UK. In August 2021, the US imposed restrictions on the Serbian business, calling the Karićes “Lukashenka’s Construction Wallet”. The sanctions targeted Nebojša Karić, son of Bogoljub, Dana Holdings, Dana Astra, Emirates Blue Sky and Dubai Water Front.

About the property the family owns, here’s what the lawyer said:

“Mr. Bogoljub Karić has been a resident of the United Arab Emirates for nearly eight years. Almost three years ago, he purchased an apartment in Dubai where rent prices are higher than in other countries, and therefore represent a highly profitable investment for real estate owners.

When Mr. Karić does not stay in Dubai, he rents the apartment just like any other real estate owner and investor. The purchase was done in compliance with all laws applicable via a bank transaction (not in cash). He was a tax resident of Dubai at the time of this purchase”.

As the BIC investigation revealed, the Karićes are not only investing in real estate in the UAE. In October 2022, we found seven apartments in London valued at around €14 million.

The official owner of the estate is Dejan Lazarević, the husband of Bogoljub’s second daughter Nadezhda. Dejan and Nadezhda co-own Dana Astra in Belarus.

In the course of this investigation, the BIC discovered another apartment in the UK capital registered to Dejan in 2009 through Booklane International Limited. [*] Located in the Abbey Lodge an apartment block on Park Road, it is almost in the city center. When it was purchased, its price tag was nearly £1.5 million, or about two million dollars.

Two of the eight London apartments owned by Dejan Lazarević are rented by Milanka Karić.

Source: OCCRP
Source: OCCRP
Source: OCCRP
Source: OCCRP
Source: Rightmove, OCCRP / Apartment in Hanover House, St Johns Wood High Street, with a layout similar to that of Milanka Karic’s property
Source: Rightmove, OCCRP / Apartment in Hanover House, St Johns Wood High Street, with a layout similar to that of Milanka Karic’s property
Source: Rightmove, OCCRP / Apartment in Hanover House, St Johns Wood High Street, with a layout similar to that of Milanka Karic’s property
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A billion-dollar gift

As the Karićes’ business in Belarus developed, the brothers’ personal links with the Belarusian authorities became more apparent. In 2009, at the invitation of Dragomir Karić, Aleksandr Lukashenko visited the Serbian ski resort of Kopaonik. Five years later, in 2014, Karićes’ company Dana Astra undertook the implementation of a major construction project in the capital, initially called Minsk-City and renamed Minsk World with the arrival of the Serbian businessmen.

The businessmen’s companies received free land from the state for the construction of the Minsk World business quarter. The corresponding decree was signed by Aleksandr Lukashenko. The OCCRP estimated its total market value to be $800 million. The Karićes underpaid the public purse some $400 million for the right to build the project. The total cost of the project can be calculated by using the price of the plot of land at $1.3 million per hectare as a reference. This is the amount that OOO Astodevelopment paid in 2017 for the right to design and develop the center of Minsk.

Furthermore, the utility systems for the Karićes’ residential estates – a significant cost in construction – were developed by the Minsk authorities at their own expense. This enabled some of the Serbian brothers’ businesses to generate annual income of over $10 million, with profits exceeding the cost of production by two or three times. The typical profitability of housing construction in Minsk at that time was approximately 15%.

Evading sanctions

Lukashenko’s decrees also exempted the Karićes’ excess income from income tax. Over a period of 10 years, from 2011 to 2020, their Belarusian companies transferred €170 million in dividends to their parent structures in Cyprus. Of this, €120 million was received by parent company Dana Holdings.

In December 2020, Dana Holdings sold its Cypriot companies, which own businesses in Belarus, to Enterprise Developments Holding Ltd. The company is registered in the United Arab Emirates and its official owner is Mostafa El Tobgy, an employee of Karićes who was a director of Dana Holdings. That is, Dana Holdings sold assets to the firm of its former director. It is possible that this was done to empty the accounts of Dana Holdings under the guise of dividends before they were frozen by sanctions for supporting Lukashenko.

The Karić then attempted to withdraw money from the accounts of Cyprus-based Dana Holdings. They probably feared that the movement of funds through them would also be restricted by sanctions. The scheme worked.

The sale price of the Emirati company’s Belarusian operations is set at €700 million, according to financial documents. However, the accounting records value these assets at €21,000. This means that Dana Holdings formally made a profit of around €700 million. However, by the end of 2020, the money from the sale had never arrived in the company’s bank account: it is listed as a receivable.

This scheme allowed the owners of Dana Holdings to withdraw a large sum of money from their accounts.

“North Waterfront”

In 2021, Aleksandr Lukashenko made another plot of land in Minsk available for building – free of charge and without an auction. The planned development was to stretch from the Tsnyanka Reservoir to the Drazdy Reservoir, which is located in the vicinity of one of the presidential residences. The project is called the North Waterfront. The area allotted to it is larger than all previous Karićes’ plots. The piece of ground covers 15 square kilometres, which is larger than the territory of the town of Maryina Horka.

The Emirati company Riverside Development Holdings Limited has been granted the rights to implement the North Waterfront project. The construction was undertaken by its Belarus subsidiary with a similar name.

Riverside Development Holdings Limited is owned by two firms. One is Emirati-based Svislach Holdings Limited. We found no public information about its owners. The second entity, Symphony Global Holdings Limited, is linked to Mohamed Al Alabbar, a renowned Emirati real estate developer. [*]

In 2022, he stated that construction on the North Waterfront project was progressing as planned. However, in 2024, he announced his intention to sell his stake and withdraw from the project. The reason, as reported by the media, is to work on a new construction project in Serbia.

It may appear that Dana Holdings is not involved in the project. This was Al Alabbar’s claim in February 2021, after the imposition of sanctions on the Karićes. However, in the context of the North Waterfront, both the businessmen’s companies and the people who worked for them are mentioned.

On the commemorative stone laid at the site of the development by Prime Minister Raman Halouchanka and Al Alabbar, the latter is referred to as Сhairman of the Board of Emirates Blue Sky. This is the new name of Zomex Investment, which used to be owned by Dana Holdings.

Bogoljub Karić
Source: BIC / Bogoljub Karić

Mohamed Al Alabbar is linked to the Karićes through another Emirati company, Bluesky Holdings Limited. It was established in October 2019, a month before Al Alabbar’s first visit to Minsk and meeting with Lukashenko. Its original directors were Bogoljub Karić and Mohamed Al Alabbar. In November 2020, Karić’s position was assumed by Mostafa El Tobgy, the former managing director of Dana Holdings, who is now the registered owner of the Belarus business. [*]

Kirill Garusov, Assistant General Manager of North Waterfront, has stated in his resume that he has been the driving force behind this project since its inception. The construction order of Lukashenko was promulgated on 13 May 2021. A month later, Garusov was hired by Riverside Development Holdings Limited. Before that, he worked at Dana Holdings for seven years.

Nadia Vinogradova, head of sales at North Waterfront, also joined  the team after eight years with Dana Holdings. North Waterfront product manager Nadia Tomash states on LinkedIn that she is employed by both Riverside Development Holdings Limited and Dana Holdings.

Pavel Zabiran, a designer, visualised the project. He has it featured in his portfolio. The designer indicated he has worked exclusively for Dana Holdings for the past 11 years.

The wind blows from Vostok

Thanks to personal ties with Lukashenko, the Karić family has saved around a billion dollars and taken almost $170 million out of Belarus in dividends alone. It is with these sums of money that they are buying apartments in Dubai and London.

Still, Karićes’ property is far from the most expensive on Palm Jumeirah. In fact, one of the flats has a mortgage and is probably a credit purchase. Purchasing a home and selling it for a profit of even a few hundred thousand dollars is a wise investment. But why would people who run businesses worth tens of millions of dollars a year do this? And if reselling property is a business, why do they put their names on the transactions?

Aleksandr Lukashenko
Source: BIC / Aleksandr Lukashenko

We followed the same trail as BELPOL, the Association of Former Belarusian Law Enforcement Agents, and found the explanation. In the investigation into the Vostok residence, “The Story of Lukashenko’s Biggest Bribe”, the ex-law enforcement officers uncovered suspicious schemes. Dana Holdings companies are probably paying the Vostok Estate management tens of thousands of dollars a year for services they do not provide. BELPOL believes that this is the way to maintain the operation of the residence.

The property in question is Lukashenko’s residence, an estate on the Minsk Sea shore, comprising several large houses, a bathhouse and fitness center, a greenhouse and other buildings. In KGB documents, it is referred to as “Vostok”.

Several facts point to this being Lukashenko’s residence: the building is controlled by his security service, and several cars from his fleet are parked there. In addition, the estate is connected to government communication lines.

According to ex-police officers, the Karićes received about a billion dollars in preferential treatment from Lukashenko for completing Vostok.

The residence is owned by OOO Vostok Properties Management. From mid-November 2007 to mid-February 2014, it was called VostokStroy. The founding shareholders included IOOO Itera-Bel, a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosneft-owned OOO Itera. [*] [*] Almost all of the Vostok housing estate was built by this company.

In 2014, the Cypriot offshore company Wincimer Holdings Limited replaced Itera-Bel as the founder of Vostok Properties Management. It received a 0.01% stake. [*] [*] [*] At the same time, Karićes’ company, Dana Astra, not only undertook to complete the Vostok project but also won the right to develop the Minsk World site in place of Itera-Bel.

From 2009 until 16 October 2023, another Cypriot offshore company, Demilux Ltd, was listed as the owner of Vostok Properties Management. The company held a majority stake in the company. They were then replaced by the Petroleum Bitumen Plant. The latter is backed by one of Lukashenko’s “moneybags”, Mikalai Varabei. However, the Varabei asset has only been held as an owner for two months.

It is difficult to say who owns Vostok Properties Management now. This information is hidden in the Unified State Register, despite being a publicly traded company, which implies transparency of data on owners. [*]

The extent of Karićes’ gratitude to Aleksandr Lukashenko for the completion of the residence after Itera-Bel appeared to us to be disproportionate to the benefits received. The company’s entire business model is based on privileges and preferences granted by the Belarusian authorities.

The BIC was able to gain exclusive access to documents provided by the Belarusian People’s Tribunal, which enabled us to gain further insight into the history of the Vostok residence. Viktor Sheiman, as the head of Lukashenko’s Department of Presidential Affairs, instructed the Diplomatic Corps Service ‘Dipservice’, which is part of the Department of Presidential Affairs, to develop a mechanism for sponsoring the estate. [*] [*]

The aid was to be provided at the rate of 25 billion non-denominated Belarusian rubles per year (more than a million dollars at the 2016 exchange rate) for 10 consecutive years. Multiplied by 10, the amount comes to about $13 million.

We have no confirmation that payments were made under this scheme. But all this could indicate that Viktor Sheiman wanted to transfer at least a million dollars a year from Dipservice funds to the residence’s account. The second possibility is that money from government departments disguised as spending on housing actually went to offshore companies that owned it until 16 October 2023.

Vostok was owned by two offshore companies, Wincimer Holdings Limited and Demilux Ltd. Both are included in the financial statements of Dana Holdings under “Receivables from related parties”. [*] [*]

Dana Astra, owned by Dana Holdings, does money transfers to Vostok Properties Management. We have found that the offshore companies Wincimer Holdings Limited and Demilux Ltd also transferred some money to Dana Holdings. The amounts in question are relatively modest, amounting to €1,314 in the first case and €300 in the second. However, this is not the total amount of transfers for the year, but only the part that remained unpaid at the end of the year. Importantly, the transactions we found are from different periods: the first is for 2021 and the second is for 2019. For transactions unrelated to the residence, the offshore owners of the residence may have been debtors to Dana Holdings.

The companies owning the residence are listed as related parties in the report. According to the Investopedia website, this could indicate that the parties have a shared interest, such as Dana Holdings having a minority stake in these companies or having previously conducted business together.

“Wincimer Holdings Limited and Demilux are included in section 28.2 of the Dana Holdings report, which covers receivables from related parties. This refers to relationships with interdependent companies. By definition, this section includes companies that fall under the category of ‘interdependent’,” Mikhail Kirilyuk, a legal adviser for the National Anti-Crisis Management, told BIC.

The lawyer explained that these could be companies with overlapping shareholders, boards, management, subsidiaries or parent companies: “According to the most general definition, these are the companies that are somehow... more closely related to the owner of the report than the usual, unrelated competitors”.

Another expert, independent economist Siarhei Chaly, is also of the opinion that Wincimer Holdings Limited and Demilux Ltd may have links to Dana Holdings:

“They are listed in the financial statements as ‘Related parties’. The definition itself implies... that the operations of these companies may be influenced by Dana Holdings, either through an equity interest in them or through management that may be associated with Dana Holdings”.

Siarhei Chaly suggested that Wincimer Holdings Limited and Demilux Ltd. were not created to make money:

“It is conceivable that the companies in question could be operating at a loss, if their objective is not to demonstrate their continued existence in some form. In essence, their primary responsibility is to act as the nominal holder of this estate [Vostok Residence – ed.], managing it accordingly. Since the objective of generating profit is not a driving factor in this venture, and, likely, the primary objective of Dana Holdings’ involvement is not to generate profit, the reporting reflects this”.

To put it another way, the offshore entities to which the Vostok residence was registered are linked to the Karićes’ company Dana Holdings. This is at least what the 2019 and 2020  financial statements and mutuals settlements indicate. It is unclear who else may be involved in these offshore companies. Similarly, the current owner of the Vostok residence is unknown, although it can be assumed that Dana Holdings may still be connected to it.

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