EU court upholds sanctions against ex Ukraine leader


Luxembourg (AFP)

An EU court on Thursday upheld a decision by Brussels to freeze the funds of Ukraine's ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych as well as those of a son and top aide.

The General Court, the second highest in the European Union, upheld the sanctions EU states imposed on the three from March 2015 until March this year over misappropriation of funds before he fled Ukraine.

The court said nonetheless it annulled the sanctions for the initial period from March 2014 until March 2015.

However, an EU official told AFP the court's decision meant Yanukovych, his son Oleksandr Yanukovych and Andriy Klyuyev "remain subject to the EU asset freeze."

The court said the initial EU case for sanctions rested only on one letter from the prosecutor general's office in Ukraine, which it added "did not provide any detail of the specific acts the three Ukrainians are alleged to have committed."

But it said the European Council, which groups the member states, later relied on a number of letters from the Ukrainian authorities that "provide sufficient proof of the fact that, when the freezing of funds was extended in March 2015, those individuals were the subject of criminal proceedings relating to misappropriation of public funds or assets."

It concluded: "The General Court of the EU confirms the freezing of funds of three Ukrainians, one being Viktor Yanukovych, former President of Ukraine, for the period from 6 March 2015 until 6 March 2016."

The court's decision can still be appealed within the next two months to the Court of Justice, the highest in the European Union.

The sanctions over misappropriation of funds against Yanukovych, his son, top aide and a few others are up for renewal in March next year.

Yanukovych fled to exile in Russia hours after his ouster by pro-European protesters in February 2014. His flight was followed weeks later by the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea and a bloody separatist uprising in pro-Moscow regions of eastern Ukraine.

In a separate case, the European Union on Thursday extended by six months, until March, sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian individuals over the conflict in Ukraine.

The blacklist of travel bans and asset freezes against nearly 150 people is in addition to sweeping economic sanctions against Russia's defence, financial and energy sectors that have infuriated President Vladimir Putin.