Exiled Ukrainian President Loses Bid to Thaw Assets

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych was prime minister when Russian President Vladimir Putin sat with him in the 2006 visit pictured above. (Photo via Kremlin.ru)

(CN) – Wanted in his home country to face charges of high treason, the exiled former president of Ukraine lost his challenge Thursday to an asset freeze imposed by the EU government.

The European Council levied the sanctions in question against Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych in March 2014, a month after Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove the billionaire from the presidency he had held for four years.

In the months leading up to that ouster, which Yanukovych has described as an “armed coup,” Ukraine was on the brink of civil war brought on by his November 2013 abandonment of a deal two decades in the making that would have established closer ties between Ukraine and the EU.

Yanukovych instead pursued a deal that would have strengthened Ukraine’s ties to Russia, where the 67-year-old has been living in exile fleeing Ukraine’s capital.

Corruption claims dogged Yanukovych during his time in office, which coincided with his only son, Oleksandr, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister of Ukraine from 2014 to 2016, has claimed that up to $70 billion was diverted from Ukraine’s treasury to foreign accounts during Yanukovych’s presidency.

Representing the government’s of the EU’s 28 member states, the EU Council froze the assets of Yanukovych and his son on March 6, 2014, citing pretrial investigations both men faced in Ukraine for the misappropriation and illegal transfer of public funds.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea two weeks later, and the investigations against the Yanukovyches have since evolved into criminal proceedings.

Both living in Russia now, the Yanukovyches have brought actions before the EU General Court challenging the renewal each year of the freeze on their assets.

After the General Court confirmed the freezing of funds for the 2015-16 period, the European Court of Justice issued separate orders Thursday confirming the sanctions.

The Yanukovyches criticized Ukraine’s human-rights record in their appeal, but the Luxembourg-based court found the challenge inapt Thursday.

“As regards the general situation in Ukraine with regard to the rule of law and human rights, … it must be held that he has not provided any concrete evidence of the effect of that general situation on his own particular situation in the pre-trial investigations conducted in his regard,” the ruling states.

The court also unraveled the challenge concerning the investigation of the Yanukovyches.

“The fact that the appellant was the subject of a pre-trial investigation, conducted under the authority of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, and not of judicial proceedings, is not, in itself, such as to lead to a finding that the acts at issue are unlawful,” the ruling says.

Though the Yanukovyches said the Council ought to have requested additional verification from the Ukrainian authorities concerning the allegations against them, the General Court found that the Yanukovyches “had not put forward any evidence capable of calling into question the reasons set out by the Ukrainian authorities to justify the charges made with respect to him in relation to very specific cases or of demonstrating that his particular situation was affected by the alleged problems in the Ukrainian judicial system,” according to the ruling.

The Yanukovyches claimed as well that bias pervades the Ukrainian judicial system and that it prevents them from defending themselves against embezzlement charges.

Rejecting these claims Thursday, that the Yanukovyches read too much into the use of the term “judicial authority” with regard to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office.

In using such language, the ruling states, the General Court be said neither to have “likened that body to a court nor that it necessarily took the view that it offered guarantees of independence and impartiality.”

As to the questions the Yanukovyches have raised about the impartiality of the Ukrainian judicial system, the ruling says it is apparent “that the General Court considered that those concerns were not capable of calling into question the cogency of the charges made with respect to the appellant in relation to very specific cases of embezzlement of public funds or of demonstrating that the appellant’s particular situation had been affected by the problems in the Ukrainian judicial system on which he relied.”

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