September 28. 2021. 6:59

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Political opponent sentenced to 14 years in prison in Belarus

Opposition politician and banker Viktor Babarik, charged with corruption and money laundering, is seen from inside a defendants’ cage during the opening day of his trial in Minsk in February. Photograph: Getty Images

The supreme court in Belarus on Tuesday sentenced a former contender in the 2020 presidential race to 14 years in prison on corruption charges, in a case that has been widely seen as politically motivated.

Viktor Babariko, the former chief executive of a Russia-owned bank, aspired to challenge Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, in last year’s election.

But Mr Babariko was arrested two months before the August 2020 vote.

His arrest drew thousands of protesters to the streets. At the time, he was widely perceived as a top contender in the race.

Mr Babariko has remained in jail since his arrest and rejected the corruption charges against him as politically driven.

On Tuesday, he was found guilty of taking a bribe and money laundering.

The court handed him a 14-year prison sentence and a fine roughly the equivalent of €48,000. He will not be able to appeal against the Supreme Court verdict.

Mr Lukashenko’s re-election to a sixth term last year prompted months of mass protests, the largest of which drew up to 200,000 people.

The opposition refused to recognise the results of the election, saying that the vote was manipulated.

Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Most opposition leaders have been jailed or forced to leave the country.