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20th Jan 2019

Former Ukraine leader files court case against EU blacklist

  • Visitors at the Museum of Corruption - Yanukovych's former home (Photo: aleksandr.andreiko)

Ukraine's former leader, Viktor Yanukovych, his sons, and six other people on an EU blacklist have launched court proceedings to get their assets unfrozen.

Andriy Portnov, a former aide to Yanukovych, got the ball rolling by lodging a case on 29 April at the EU court in Luxembourg.

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Mykola Azarov, the former PM, and his son, Oleksii, followed suit with two separate cases on 12 May.

Yanukovych and his sons, Viktor junior and Oleksandr, lodged three separate cases on 14 May.

Serhiy Kurchenko, a businessman linked to the old ruling clan, filed one on 15 May. Andrii Kluyev, the former president's chief of staff, and his brother, Serhii Kluyev, a businessman, also lodged two separate cases the same day.

All the complaints call for an "annulment" of the EU sanctions decision.

Four other Ukrainians on the blacklist have also written to the EU Council requesting access to evidence in a sign of more lawsuits to come.

The four men are: former prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka and his son Artem; former spy chief Oleksandr Yakymenko; and former interior minister Vitalii Zakharchenko.

The EU froze the assets in Europe of 18 Ukrainians on 6 March, two weeks after Yanukovych fled the country, in order to help the new authorities repatriate embezzled funds.

Ukraine's new prosecutor general has estimated the old elite, or "Familia", stole up to €70 billion in its four years in power.

Some of the wealth is on display in Yanukovych's former home, the Mezhyhirya complex outside Kiev, where documents show he spent €31 million on light fittings alone, and which has now been made into a Museum of Corruption.

For their part, the Azarovs are being represented by a German law firm, Alber & Geiger.

It says EU sanctions cannot be imposed against people after they left power, because sanctions are meant to influence government behaviour, not to punish people or to claw back money.

It usually takes the EU court between 18 months and two and a half years to reach a verdict in sanctions cases. If either side appeals, it could take another 18 months before a final ruling.

In a quirk of EU law, plaintiffs are allowed to use frozen funds to pay their lawyers to fight the EU.

But even if the Yanukovych clan wins, it could be a partial victory.

For one, the EU court has never awarded financial damages in a sanctions case, even if the plaintiff's funds were frozen for years.

Meanwhile, if the Familia wins, but on a legal technicality, EU countries can re-blacklist them after correcting the procedural glitch highlighted by the judges. Any new decision would have to be fought afresh in court.

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