Former President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country after the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and has been convicted of treason.
LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The EU’s second-highest court annulled a 2019 extension of financial sanctions against the former president of Ukraine on Wednesday.
In a pair of rulings, the European General Court found that the Council of the European Union failed to investigate whether Viktor Yanukovych and his son Oleksandr Yanukovych had received a fair trial in Ukraine.
“The Council should at the very least have indicated the reasons for which … it was able to conclude that the applicant’s right to effective judicial protection before the Ukrainian judicial authorities had been complied with,” the court’s Fifth Chamber wrote.
Yanukovych was ousted from power in 2014 following a popular uprising. He had been set to finalize a cooperation agreement with the EU, widely seen as a move to pull Ukraine away from Russian influence, but refused to sign it at the last minute. The Ukrainian police reacted violently and ultimately more than 100 people were killed and thousands injured.
The former president and his son fled to Russia, where Yanukovych continued to meddle in Ukrainian affairs, including by asking Russia to send troops to Ukraine. Moscow illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported the ongoing secessionist movement in parts of eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities charged the pair with embezzling from state coffers, which triggered the EU to freeze Yanukovych’s bank accounts and those of 15 of his closest associates. He was ultimately convicted of treason, but his millions can only be returned to Ukraine if the government demonstrates that he obtained the money illegally. The asset freeze has been repeatedly extended.
Yanukovych filed a complaint with the Luxembourg-based court, arguing he hadn’t received a fair trial in Ukraine. The sanctions have volleyed around the court since they were initiated in 2014. In 2016, judges on the General Court partially upheld the sanctions and that same court tossed another challenge against them in 2018. But in 2019, the court annulled two years of sanctions, saying that the EU council did not verify if Yanukovych received a fair trial.
in Wednesday’s ruling nixing the extension of the asset freeze, the General Court judges were similarly unconvinced that the European Council, the institution that represents EU member states’ governments and the one that issued the sanctions, had sufficiently investigated whether Yanukovych’s trial was free and fair.
“Ultimately, when it bases the adoption or the maintenance of restrictive measures such as those in the present case on the decision of a third state to initiate and conduct criminal proceedings for misappropriation of public funds or assets by the person concerned, the Council must, first, ensure that, at the time of the adoption of that decision, the authorities of that third state have complied with the rights of defense and the right to effective judicial protection of the person against whom the criminal proceedings at issue have been brought,” the five-judge panel wrote.
Yanukovych’s money is thought to be spread across several member states, including the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. The bulk, some $150 million, is reportedly in a Swiss bank account.
Earlier this year, on the seventh anniversary of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, the European Court of Human Rights found that Ukrainian police and authorities committed widespread abuses against protesters.