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EU Court Lifts Sanctions Against Soccer Club

(CN) - There is no proof that a Belarus soccer team supported the country's dictator and no reason to freeze its assets, an EU court ruled Tuesday.

The European Union's General Court annulled financial sanctions against Dynamo Minsk, finding that the EU Council did not prove that the soccer club's owner supported or benefitted from the regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

The sanctions were imposed in January 2012 against people responsible for "the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition in Belarus" and those supporting Lukashenko's rule, according to an EU press release.

In 2011, President Barack Obama continued an executive order originally made by former President George W. Bush, which froze the financial activity of officials involved in alleged fraud and suppression in the 2006 Belarus presidential elections. President Obama continued the order again this past June, making it effective through the summer of 2016, according to a U.S. government press release.

Executive Order 13405 was issued in 2006 in protest of the actions of Lukashenko and ten other members of his government who have been accused of intimidating, kidnapping and otherwise suppressing political parties opposed to Lukashenko's third term in office, which he claimed to win by more than 80 percent of the vote. The order has been extended by one year each year since it was issued.

In March 2012, the EU Council, which represents member state governments, added Dynamo Minsk leader Yury Aleksandrovich Chyzh to the list of people whose funds were to be frozen. The council added his name on the grounds that he gave financial support to Lukashenko through his company Triple, which had been given awards and concessions by the Belarus government, according to the EU.

In addition to being chair of the board for the soccer team, Chyzh is also chair of the Belarusian wrestling federation, the press release states. The EU says it believed his sporting positions confirmed his association with Lukashenko's government. It froze Chyzh's assets as well as those of Triple and its subsidiaries, including Dynamo Minsk.

Chyzh, his soccer team and his company challenged the decision in the EU General Court. That court ordered their removal from sanction lists on Tuesday, finding that the EU Council had no evidence that Chyzh, Triple or Dynamo Minsk gave money to Lukashenko.

"As regards [to] Mr. Chyzh's alleged payment of bribes to officials of that regime, suffice it to note that the council does not provide proof of this. It merely asserts that, even if it is difficult to provide hard evidence of the payment of bribes, it is 'most unlikely' that the favors granted to Mr. Chyzh by the regime have not been returned one way or another," a translated ruling states. "In doing so, the council does not provide any evidence of the payments of bribes by Mr. Chyzh or that he provided any other consideration to the regime."

The European court rejected the claim that Chyzh's public awards and concessions were granted because of any connection to Lukashenko's regime. It also found that the EU Council should not have included Triple on its list because it was owned by one person, Chyzh, who was already on the list.

Tuesday's decision was based on two underlying cases against the EU Council. One challenge was brought by Chyzh, Triple and its subsidiaries, and the other was brought by Dynamo Minsk.

Lukashenko has presided over an authoritarian government in Belarus since 1994, according to Amnesty International. Hundreds protested outside of the Belarusian embassy in New York City after Lukashenko's disputed re-election in late 2010.


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