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EU court backs sanctions on Belarusian oligarch

Aleksandr Shakutin, a top businessman in Belarus and an ally of the repressive Belarusian regime, failed to overturn EU sanctions.

(CN) — EU judges upheld sanctions Wednesday against a Belarusian oligarch and ally of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The General Court, the EU's second-highest court, said the sanctions Brussels imposed on Aleksandr Shakutin were justified and supported by evidence of the businessman's close dealings with Lukashenko, the sanctioned Belarusian leader who ordered a brutal crackdown on protesters after his disputed reelection in August 2020.

Shakutin has faced financial sanctions since December 2020 as the EU sought to pressure Lukashenko's regime and mete out punishment for its repression of large-scale protests and opposition. Dozens of other Belarusian business people and officials, including the president, were also sanctioned.

While the sanctions included a freeze on Shakutin's assets and business dealings in the EU, recent news reports suggest that he has managed to continue doing business in the EU in circumvention of the EU sanctions. News investigations have linked him to businesses in Germany and Lithuania.

The United Kingdom and Switzerland, two financial centers outside the bloc, imposed financial sanctions as well on the Belarusian magnate.

Belarus was still a Soviet republic when Shakutin, now 64, rose up among the ranks of the country's elite. Having entered private business following the collapse of communism, Shakutin cut a path similar to those of other oligarchs in former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe who allegedly became tremendously wealthy, often through corruption, as former state assets were privatized.

Shakutin is considered a close ally of Lukashenko and he has extensive holdings in the construction, machine-building and agricultural sectors in Belarus.

The EU accuses him of unfairly benefiting from privatization during Lukashenko's 19-year-reign as president. In support for their decision to target him, EU officials noted he was a member of Belaya Rus, a public association or informal political party that supports Lukashenko, and a member of the Council for the Development of Entrepreneurship, a powerful state panel that drives legislative proposals in Belarus.

Shakutin argued that the sanctions were improper because of procedural mistakes by the European Council, which approved the sanctions, and due to a lack of evidence behind allegations he's benefited from ties to Lukashenko.

The European Council is a body comprising the heads of state of the 27 EU members, and it makes legislative, executive and foreign policy decisions.

In imposing the sanctions, the council relied on news reports, often from Belarusian media opposed to Lukashenko. But the General Court noted that Shakutin did not deny findings that he was a major Belarusian businessman, though he did reject the notion that he benefited from an alliance with Lukashenko.

The court noted that Shakutin appeared at Lukashenko's inauguration in 2020 and that he had spoken publicly in support of the president's actions against the protests.

Wednesday's ruling says the council provided “sufficiently concrete, precise and consistent” evidence to warrant sanctioning the businessman.

The EU began imposing sanctions on Belarus in 2004 in response to its allegedly anti-democratic actions.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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