Ukraine pariahs hire lobby firm in EU capital
18.03.14 @ 09:51
BRUSSELS - At least two people on the EU’s Ukraine blacklist have recruited a lobby firm in Brussels to get them off the hook.
The German company, Alber & Geiger, calls itself a “lobbying law firm” and has offices in Berlin and Brussels, but also does litigation in the EU courts in Luxembourg.
It declined to name its clients.
But it said they do not include former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.
It added that they were not part of the security apparatus and could not be responsible for sniper shootings in Kiev in February because they were “not in office” at the time.
The description fits former Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov, who lost his post before the sniper killings.
Two other potential clients who fit the profile are Serhiy Kluyev, a pro-regime MP who has business ties with Azarov, and Serhiy Kurchenko, a Ukrainian gas, banking, and media baron named by the EU as a Yanukovych bag-man.
Kluyev is still in Kiev and still attends parliament. Kurchenko has told Russian media he is innocent and vowed to clear his name.
Alber & Geiger also declined to disclose its fee, but PR industry sources in Brussels said the type of contract is worth “at least” €80,000 a month.
The firm’s Andreas Geiger told EUobserver his clients should not be on the blacklist because, under article 215 of the EU treaty, sanctions are meant to coerce governments into changing their behaviour, but the EU list was imposed on 5 March when the Yanukovych regime had already fallen.
He said the EU would be “exceeding its competences” if it imposed sanctions as a political punishment or in order to help seize embezzled funds.
“We are going to say [to the EU Council]: ‘Look. You’ve got the wrong people and you’ve got no legal basis, so please take them off the list.’ And if they reject this, we’ll take them to court,” he added.
He is likely to have a fight on his hands, however.
For his part, Jean-Claude Piris, the head of the Council’s legal service from 1998 to 2011, told this website that article 215 is “procedural”, while chapter 2 of title V of the EU treaty on “substance and motivation” gives the EU scope to pursue various goals.
“According to me, no [Alber & Geiger has no case],” Piris said.
An EU diplomat also noted that the Union, in Egypt and Tunisia, has already imposed asset freezes with the explicit purpose of helping post-revolutionary authorities to repatriate assets.
Its legal argument aside, Alber & Geiger is also using conventional lobby tactics.
Andreas Geiger gave credence to conspiracy theories the Kiev snipers might have been hired by someone in the opposition.
He claimed the EU list is based on information from Ukrainian opposition leaders, in what he called a “witch-hunt”.
He also claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to get her hands on the Yanukovych clan’s money so that German taxpayers contribute less to the EU’s Ukraine bailout.
Asked by this website if he is concerned that his Ukraine contract could harm his company’s reputation, he said: “Everyone should be considered innocent until they are proven guilty.”
Azarov, Kluyev, and Kurchenko could not be reached for comment.