Two of Bangladesh’s current honorary consuls are businessmen subject to international sanctions for their role in “undermining” democracy in their home countries or in “worldwide malign activity”, Netra News can reveal.
Alexander Vasilyevich Shakutin, Bangladesh’s honorary consul in Belarus, was sanctioned by the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020 in relation to his role in supporting the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, to rig that year’s presidential elections.
Sergey Aleksandrovich Fursenko, Bangladesh’s honorary consul in Russia’s Saint Petersburg, was sanctioned by the United States and Canada two years earlier in relation to the Russian government’s continuing occupation of Crimea, which first took place in 2014.
It is not clear whether the Bangladesh government appointed the men as honorary consuls before or after they were sanctioned by the Western states.
Honorary consuls play largely symbolic diplomatic roles for a foreign country in their respective home countries without enjoying diplomatic privileges such as immunity. They are expected to contribute to enhancing relationships, particularly those involving business, between their home country and the country for which they act as honorary consul. Honorary consuls are often businessmen with high-level political access.
It is not clear whether the sanctions will have any ramifications for Bangladesh.
Netra News contacted Bangladesh’s foreign minister and foreign secretary whether they were aware that their honorary consuls had been sanctioned and whether it was appropriate for them to remain in position, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Consul in Belarus
The European Union (EU) imposed sanctions against Shakutin in December 2020, accusing him of “contributing to the repression of civil society and democratic opposition” in Belarus. He was accused of “public comments condemning the opposition protests in Belarus” during the presidential elections in 2020 which were widely seen as rigged.
The UK sanctioned him the same month claiming that he was “undermining democracy”.
In response to a query about the EU’s view on his continuing appointment as an honorary consul, an EU official told Netra News, “While EU sanctions inherently have an effect in non-EU countries, as they are a foreign policy tool, the measures apply only within EU jurisdiction.”
She, however, said that as a result she was not in a “position to comment” on the matter.
UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office declined to comment for this story, but Netra News understands that it views the appointment as a matter for the government of Bangladesh.
Consul in Saint Petersburg
In 2018, the US imposed sanctions on Fursenko, Bangladesh’s honorary consul in Russia’s Saint Petersburg, as a response to the Russian government’s engagement “in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.”
A year later the Canadian government imposed its own sanctions on him as part of its response “to the gravity of Russia’s violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and grave human rights violations that have been committed in Russia.”
Jason Kung, a spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada, the country’s foreign ministry, told Netra News that “Canada strongly condemns President Putin’s unjustifiable and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine… and continues to work with our international allies and partners in support for Ukraine and its people. […] Questions about Bangladesh’s foreign representatives should be directed to the government of Bangladesh.”
US officials did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Centre of power
Both Shakutin and Fursenko appear to be close to the centre of power in their respective home countries.
In addition to being an industrialist, between 2008 to 2012, Shakutin was a member of the upper house of the Belarusian parliament and is reportedly close to the Belarusian autocrat, Alexander Lukashenko.
According to the EU, he is also one of the men who “benefited most from the privatisation during Lukashenko’s tenure as president” and is a “member of the presidium of the pro-Lukashenka public association ‘Belaya Rus’ and a member of the Council for the Development of Entrepreneurship in the Republic of Belarus.”
The EU claimed that through these activities Shakutin was “benefiting from and supporting the Lukashenko regime.”
The UK described Bangladesh’s honorary consul to Belarus as a “longstanding associate of Alexander Lukashenko” who “has supported the Lukashenko regime despite the fraudulent election result.”
It further claimed, “There are reasonable grounds to suspect that the support of Shakutin for the regime could be contributing to activities undermining democracy.”
As a result of the sanctions, all of Shakutin’s assets in the EU and the UK have been frozen and he cannot do business with any EU or UK citizen.
Sergey Fursenko’s proximity to Russian power has been even closer.
He, along with his brother, Andrei Fursenko, was reportedly part of the infamous Ozero group, a tight-knit community of former Russian intelligence officials and oligarchs based in Saint Petersburg that helped Vladimir Putin’s rise and benefited immensely in the years since his ascent to the presidency in 2012.
He was a member of the board at Gazprom Neft, a $42 billion subsidiary of the Russian state-owned energy giant, Gazprom. It was because of this position that the United States sanctioned him in 2018 as part of the country’s targeting of Russian oligarchs.
“Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” the US Department of Treasury stated at the time in its press release announcing the sanctions against him and others connected to the Russian government.
Gazprom Neft, formerly known as Sibneft, was once owned by the infamous Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, the recently-sanctioned owner of Chelsea football club in the UK. A significant part of Abramovich’s multi-billion dollar fortune came from the corrupt purchase and the subsequent sale of Sibeneft to the Russian state, according to a recent story by the BBC.
Sergei Fursenko’s brother, Andrei, is a former cabinet member, considered a close aide to Putin, and was among the first Russians to be sanctioned by the US after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Ties with Bangladesh
The name of Sergey Aleksandrovich Fursenko is listed on the website of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Bangladesh’s honorary consul in Saint Petersburg in Russia.
Shakutin’s name, however, is not included on this list, but he is named as the consul in Minsk on Bangladesh’s Russian embassy website along with his contact details.
Shakutin’s office also confirmed to Netra News that he remained Bangladesh’s honorary consul and had been in that post for “at least a few years”.
“Yes, he is honorary consul, but only for economic and business cooperation between Bangladesh and Belarus,” Olga from his office said.
She said that she did not know how Shakutin had become Bangladesh’s honorary consul.
Shakutin is a leading Belarusian businessman with interests in construction, machine building, agriculture, and other sectors. He is the chairman of the board of directors of the mechanical engineering company Amkodor which sells vehicles and machinery to Bangladesh. In 2020, it was reported that “Amkodor intends to sell several batches of vehicles and machines worth $117 million to Bangladesh.”
The news article went on to note, “Amkodor and Bangladeshi government agencies are working on contracts on supplying regular batches of Amkodor vehicles worth $17 million and $100 million to Bangladesh.”
In 2016 Amkodor was reported to have shipped over 1,400 units of self-propelled machines and mounted tools worth $50 million to Bangladesh.
In the same year, Shakutin’s Belarussian company, Amkodar set up a Bangladesh company, Amkodor Palash Industrial Zone Ltd, jointly with the Bangladesh businessman Aniruddha Kumar Roy and his wife, Shashwati Roy.
Aniruddha Kumar Roy is Belarus’s own honorary consul in Bangladesh, and according to documents filed at the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies, he is the chairman of the joint Bangladesh-Belarus company which in 2017 set up a shopping and after-sales service centre.
In the same year, Aniruddha Kumar Roy found himself at the centre of a judicial scandal.
According to Bangladesh’s former chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, in August 2017 Bangladeshi law enforcement authorities abducted Roy, a friend of his, and in exchange for his resignation as chief justice, promised that he would be freed.
Sinha says that in the early hours of November 10th 2017, while he was in Australia and en route to Canada, a Bangladeshi military intelligence officer came to him and told him that the businessman Aniruddha Roy had been freed.
“He then told me that he was kept at an undisclosed location and if I resigned it could lead to Aniruddha’s release,” Sinha claims. He says that he told the officer that he would not resign until he had spoken to Roy’s wife and was sure that Roy had been taken home.
After a few minutes, they gave the phone to the wife. Sinha says that, “she was wailing and making entreaties to me to tender my resignation in exchange for the life of her husband” and that he then spoke to Roy who said: “Sir, I am on the stairs of my house.”
The former chief justice, who himself is reported to have travelled to Belarus in 2016, says he then signed the resignation letter.
Roy, however, told journalists after his release that he was kidnapped and detained due to a business rivalry.●