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Attracting Foreign Investment to Belarus Will Be Tough Hurdle, Say Some Experts

Former strategic shareholder of "Kommunarka" and "Spartak" Marat Novikau

"Not a single contract will be signed" as a result of today's first ever US/Belarus investment forum in New York, predicts a former candy magnate whose majority shares in a couple of Belarusian confection factories were re-appropriated by the state nearly two years ago.

US businessman Marat Novikov's less than sanguine attitude toward his native Belarus as a foreign investment destination may be colored by his experience there, but it is echoed by some independent analysts.

"As long as there are stories like (Novikov's) 'Kamunarka' and 'Spartak,' investors will approach the Belarusian market with great trepidation," says Belarus-based financial analyst Vadzim Iosub. "Investors need guarantees that there property is safe."

Economist Lev Margolin says that, according to recent statistics, levels of foreign investment in Belarus were already low and have been decreasing. "Given our state of democracy, our judicial system and possibilities to protect invested monies, it is very difficult to lure investment here," says Margolin.

The Belarusian government is intent to turn the tide however. Deputy foreign minister Alyaksandr Huryanaw said last week that Belarus prime-minister Mikhail Myasnikovich's attendance at today's forum was evidence of the country's commitment to improving its investment image.

Mr. Novikov's presence in the Belarusian candy market ended after the country president Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused him of malfeasance and failure to modernize facilities.

The country's supreme court later upheld a ruling that Novikov's majority stakes in two chocolate companies should be returned to the government.