EU weighs lifting some sanctions on Russians due to legal concerns

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The European Union is in discussions about removing sanctions it imposed on some Russian individuals over their involvement in Moscow’s war in Ukraine after the bloc’s lawyers found that the penalties may have been imposed on weak grounds, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some 30 individuals have taken the EU to court, asking to be removed from the sanctions lists, and about another 10 have asked the EU directly to be removed, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.

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The European Council’s legal service informed EU ambassadors on Wednesday that some of those requests were justified as information provided by the sanctioned individuals showed that evidence underpinning the penalties was either weak, old or wrong, according to the people.

The people didn’t specify the number of errors the EU lawyers found or the names of the people involved.

A spokesperson for the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy declined to comment, citing confidential ongoing discussions. An email sent to the council seeking comment on the legal assessment wasn’t immediately returned.

Targeted Tycoons

Even so, the new assessments will be a tiny proportion of targeted individuals. Since the beginning of the war in February, the EU has sanctioned hundreds of people, including dozens of tycoons, businesspeople, politicians and military officials.

Andrey Melnichenko and his wife Aleksandra are among those to have written to the EU through lawyers to ask that it reconsiders sanctions on the couple, according to documents seen by Bloomberg.

They cite what they believe to be a number of errors in how they have been characterized in the listings, including allegations of being closely allied to the Russian leadership.

Melnichenko is the founder of the global fertilizer company EuroChem Group AG.

Others, including steel magnate Alexey Mordashov and metals tycoon Alisher Usmanov have also asked the EU to reconsider its decision, people familiar with the situation said.

Spokespeople for Melnichenko, Mordashov and Usmanov declined to comment.

The EU is set to propose listing about 50 more people and entities as part of a new package of sanctions it aims to adopt next week, which is expected to also target gold and tighten previous measures.

The legal basis of any sanctions needs to be solid as losing a court case carries reputational and economic risks for the EU. Still, de-sanctioning individuals requires the backing of member states and some diplomats urged against speedy decisions at Wednesday’s meeting, the people said.

In total, 41 legal actions have been filed in court in response to the bloc’s sanctions, involving individuals, entities and sectoral measures.

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