24th Oct 2016

Ukraine's ex-PM trying to get his EU money back

  • Mykola Azarov (l) in the EU parliament before losing his post (Photo:

Diplomats have revealed that the former Ukrainian regime members trying to get off an EU visa ban and asset freeze are ex-PM Mykola Azarov and his son Oleksii.

Three diplomatic sources told this website on Thursday (3 April) the so-called Coest working group in the EU Council is considering their request.

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EUobserver previously reported that a German law firm, Alber & Geiger, is working for at least two people on the sanctions register. It declines to say who they are.

But the diplomatic contacts said the firm sent a letter on the Azarovs’ behalf to the Council on 5 March, the same day the EU sanctions entered into force. The letter refers to Mykola and his “family members,” with 32-year-old Oleksii, also a politician, the only other Azarov on the blacklist.

The 5 March letter was just the beginning.

The firm sent a second note to the Council on 25 March with “points for consideration” by Coest. It sent similar letters to all 28 EU countries’ embassies in Brussels on 26 March. It also approached at least one MEP, British Conservative Charles Tannock, for a meeting.

The Azarovs’ current whereabouts are unknown.

Mykola left his post in January. According to Austria's Krone newspaper, he immediately flew to Austria, where he and his family have real estate and business interests.

In terms of procedure, all 28 EU countries must agree to delist the men. The EU foreign service and the European Commission then draft a text to formalise the decision.

If they say No, Alber & Geiger can take the case to the EU courts in Luxembourg.

One EU diplomat said it is “very rare” for the Council to back down without a courtroom scrap. But Alber & Geiger believes a court ruling this week plays in its favour.

The court on Wednesday said Mehdi Ben Ali, a nephew of the former Tunisian leader, should be taken off a separate EU blacklist on a technicality.

Its ruling notes the EU sanctions on Tunisia, from 2011, were imposed on people “responsible for misappropriation of state funds,” but Ali’s name was listed merely “because he is subject to a ‘judicial investigation’.”

The Azarov case mirrors the Ali case.

The Ukraine sanctions were also introduced against people “responsible for the misappropriation of Ukrainian state funds,” but the Azarovs were listed as “subject to investigation in Ukraine for … the embezzlement of Ukrainian state funds.”

Whatever the legal merit, Alber & Geiger is not having an easy time on the political front.

Tannock refused to meet what he called Azarov’s “lobbyists” and told this website he has “every reason to believe that government ministers were responsible for the swindling of state assets and engaging in widespread corrupt practice, so the EU sanctions and repatriation of assets is perfectly justified.”

Meanwhile, EU diplomats note the firm’s attempt to involve politics and media in the legal process is highly irregular.

“I think this could be some kind of test by the former Ukrainian regime. If they get any traction, we are likely to see complaints from other people [on the blacklist] flood in,” one contact said.

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