(CN) – A businessman and crony of Russian president Vladimir Putin was properly placed on a 2015 EU blacklist for his role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, the European General Court ruled Wednesday.
However, the EU court found lawmakers lacked sufficient evidence to blacklist the man, Arkady Rotenberg, during the period of mid-2014 through mid-2015.
Putin’s friend and former judo sparring partner, Rotenberg has made his fortune during Putin’s tenure thanks to numerous highly lucrative contracts awarded by Russia – including several relating to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Rotenberg also owns a majority stake in Giprotransmost, which was contracted by a state-owned company to conduct a feasibility study of a bridge between Russia and the illegally annexed Crimea. If built, the bridge would cement Russia’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
European lawmakers first froze Rotenberg’s assets and barred him from entry into the EU in July 2014, based solely on his involvement with Putin and Giprotransmost’s bridge study. But in March 2015, lawmakers extended the sanctions and added two additional grounds: Rotenberg also owns the company that won the contract to build the bridge between Russia and Crimea, and is chairman of a publishing house that has begun a public relations campaign to convince Crimean children that they are now Russian citizens, living in Russia.
Rotenberg’s blacklisting has since been extended three times, with the latest set to end in March 2017. He appealed for annulment of the restrictive measures, and in a ruling issued Wednesday the EU’s lower court agreed that the first round of measures was improper since at the time, Rotenberg hadn’t directly benefited from the annexation of Crimea.
That changed with the March 2015 extension, however, after Rotenberg’s company won the contract to build the bridge. Because Rotenberg doesn’t deny he owns the company or that it won the bridge contract, the court found lawmakers had sufficient evidence to support the sanctions.
As for the campaign to indoctrinate Crimean children, the court noted that it was established on Putin’s orders and – since Rotenberg is chairman of the board of the publishing house carrying out the campaign – “does therefore support the Russian government’s policy of integrating Crimea into Russia and consequently helps to further undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the court said.
The court declined to weigh in on the latest extension, which wasn’t part of Rotenberg’s request.
He has two months to lodge an appeal with the European Court of Justice.