When the European Union introduced sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka due to rigged elections and a violent crackdown on protests, some of the oligarchs in his closest circle started to shift assets to allies across Baltic borders.

In this IJ4EU-supported investigation, journalists from investigative centres and news outlets in four countries — Re:Baltica in Latvia, Delfi in Estonia, Siena in Lithuania and Belsat TV in Belarus — reveal the scale of sanction-busting in this illicit flow of wealth.

One story shows how Estonia, despite harsh words against the Lukashenka regime, had a record year in importing and transiting Belarusian oil products, even luring cargo away from neighbouring Latvia.

The success was down to a trick involving customs codes, with bogus codes applied to products to elude the EU sanctions list. A week after publication of the story, the Estonian government closed the loophole and asked the EU to do the same. 

The investigation also exposes people in Latvia and Estonia who have allegedly fronted the interests of sanctioned Belarusian oligarch Mikalai Varabei and Lithuanians in dealing with sanctioned Belarusian state company BelAZ, one of the world’s top truck makers.

Last but not least, the Lithuanian and Belarusian team exposes the circumvention of US sanctions on fertilisers, one of Belarus’s major exports. The Lithuanian government finally stopped the trade in January 2022.

In addition, the investigation shows how  the transit of Belarusian fertilisers became a tool for the creation of massive wealth and political influence in Lithuania.

Below are the stories in six languages. 

Published stories