Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin former president Viktor Yanukovich scored a legal victory Thursday in his battle against EU sanctions imposed for embezzling state funds before he was ousted from power.
Brussels hit Yanukovich and several of his aides and family with asset freezes and travel bans soon after he was thrown out of office in 2014 following massive pro-EU protests, and these measures have been regularly renewed every year since.
But the Luxembourg-based General Court of the EU, the bloc’s second highest tribunal, on Thursday cancelled the sanction renewals from March 2016 and March 2017.
The court said the Council of the European Union — the body through which EU countries impose sanctions — did not appear to have properly checked whether Yanukovich’s right to a defence had been respected by the Ukrainian authorities.
Yanukovich, who fled to Russia, and several others including his son Oleksandr, were sanctioned by the EU because the Ukrainian authorities had identified them as responsible for raiding state coffers.
Upholding Yanukovich’s appeal against the sanctions, the court said the EU Council should have verified for itself that “the rights of the defence and the right to effective judicial protection were complied with” by the Ukrainian authorities.
“The General Court finds that the statement of reasons for the Council’s acts extending the restrictive measures does not include a single reference to the fact that the Council verified compliance with such rights,” the court said in a statement.
The court cancelled the 2016 and 2017 extensions on Yanukovich and his son Oleksandr, as well as a 2018 extension of sanctions on five other officials from his administration.
But Yanukovich remains under sanction because of a later extension, passed in March, which lasts until March 2020. He has also challenged this but the court has yet to rule.