Yesterday four employees (pictured) of U.S.-headquartered enterprise startup PandaDoc were arrested in Minsk by the Belarus police, in what appears to be an act of state-led retaliation, after the company’s founders joined protests against the 26-year-long regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko is widely believed by international observers to have rigged the country’s recent elections in his favor, preventing the election of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
PandaDoc — which has raised $51.1 million and is now headquartered in San Francisco after debuting at a TechCrunch Meetup in Berlin in 2013 — issued a statement saying their Minsk development office was raided by police and the “Financial Investigation Department” yesterday morning.
PandaDoc has released a statement on a new web site, SavePandaDoc, outlining the incident, saying employees had been prevented from leaving the office, refused access to lawyers and a director was taken away by police.
One of the founders of the company, Mikita Mikado, who lives in the U.S., has also released a statement to this effect on his Instagram and YouTube.
Four of the arrested PandaDoc employees have been charged with embezzling 107,000 BYR ($41,000) from the company and therefore avoiding tax. The employees have been detained for two months.
However, PandaDoc released a statement saying: “We declare that this accusation is completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever. All activities of the company were carried out in full compliance with the legislation, which is confirmed by repeated international audits and inspections.”
Now held in custody are:
Yulia Shardiko, Chief Accountant
Dmitry Rabtsevich, Director
Victor Kuvshinov, Product Director
Vladislav Mikholap, HR
Although the company HQ is in San Francisco, it has a large office on the Belarusian High Technologies Park, which was set up by the government supposedly to support the tech industry.
PandaDoc said the police raid was likely linked to the fact that the founders of PandaDoc, in particular Mikado, have protested publicly against the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, but have done so strictly in a personal capacity.
Mikado recently became a leading voice in the protest movement. He set up an initiative, ProtectBelarus.org, offering financial aid and re-training in the tech industry for Belarusian police officers who had decided to disobey orders to beat and torture protesters.
Belarussian police officers are effectively “indentured employees” because they are paid in large sums at the beginning of their contract, but this immediately becomes a debt to the state the moment they decide to break their contract.
In a statement, Mikado said that as of August 29th, the platform had received more than 6,000 messages and almost 600 requests for help. The platform is run by volunteers and has no relation to PandaDoc, the company.
Mikado said in a statement: “We are asking international tech community to support PandaDoc by sharing this message and reaction to it with a #SavePandaDoc tag.”
“There is no more law. The authorities do not even try to act according to the law, they simply fabricate cases for political orders that come from above. And if you thought that this would not affect you, then we can safely assure you of the opposite – it has already affected everyone,” the statement reads.
“We will not be silent anymore! The country is full of legal chaos. The actions of the authorities cannot be called anything except genocide and repression. The further it goes, the longer the road back. And soon there will be a cliff. We demand to immediately release our colleagues, close the criminal case, let the company work normally and bring benefits and income, including to the state.”
The company now says it will be forced to close the company in Belarus and “will begin to establish an alternative to the Park of High Technologies outside the Republic of Belarus.”
PandaDoc only recently raised $30 million in a Series B extension from One Peak, Microsoft Venture Fund M12 and EBRD Venture Fund.
After the Belarusian presidential election on August 9th (which was not recognized as free and fair by the EU, the U.K. and the U.S. due to widely reported and documented vote-rigging in favor of Lukashenko), the police violently cracked down on peaceful protests, leading to six reported deaths and 450 UN-documented cases of police torture.