Russian billionaire wins legal case against EU sanctions

The EU’s General Court ruled Wednesday that the EU had provided insufficient evidence to show that Fridman and his business partner, Petr Aven, provided material support to the Kremlin or supported actions undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

The EU can appeal the decision and the two businessmen remain under EU sanctions for now. They have also had assets frozen in the U.K. and U.S.

The ruling, however, could set a precedent for other challenges by Russian oligarchs who have had their companies, luxury properties and other assets frozen for being part of the Kremlin’s elite.

There have been around 90 appeals against sanctions lodged with the EU courts by Russian individuals and companies. Most haven’t been resolved, though courts have backed sanctions on some, including former Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and tycoon Gennady Timchenko.

In addition to imposing broad sanctions on Russia’s economy, financial and energy sector, the EU has targeted more than 1,700 individuals and over 400 companies or other entities.

Fridman, who has Russian and Israeli citizenship but who resided in London when the war started in February 2022, was one of the wealthiest and best-known business executives targeted by EU and U.K. sanctions. He was the founder and controlling shareholder in Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank.

“The Court rightly found that all accusations against Mr. Mikhail Fridman and Mr. Petr Aven were completely baseless. Sanctioning them was a counterproductive mistake,” said Fridman and Aven’s lawyers. “We hope that today’s strong signal will be heard in the EU and outside.”

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, said officials are “carefully analyzing the judgment and its legal implications.” There isn’t a decision yet on whether they will appeal the decision.

Wednesday’s ruling by the EU court doesn’t free Fridman from legal troubles. He lost a case challenging sanctions last year in the U.K., where he bought a 150-year-old London home and spent millions of pounds restoring it. Washington also placed sanctions on Fridman and Aven last year.

Fridman and Aven will remain subject to EU sanctions because their appeal only challenged the decisions between February 2022 and March 2023. Since then, the Russia sanctions have twice been updated and would require fresh legal challenges to be overturned.

The European Commission spokeswoman said Fridman and Aven were listed in the most recent sanctions decisions on “updated reasoning that was not subject to this litigation.”

Fridman’s legal win adds to the doubts about the effectiveness of Western sanctions on Russia’s business elite, many of whom had kept assets out of Europe and the U.S. or moved them just before the war.

The original motivation for imposing the sanctions—to encourage some of Russia’s elite to come out against the war or pressure the Kremlin privately to stop the conflict—has failed to materialize. Fridman, who was born in what is now Ukraine, has called the war a “tragedy” but declined to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin directly in the early days of the invasion, claiming it could be dangerous for company staff.

In a number of cases, Western governments have faced significant costs for the upkeep of frozen oligarch assets, such as yachts, and have had little traction winning legal cases to confiscate the assets outright and give the proceeds to Ukraine. Meanwhile, several oligarchs have left the West to return to Russia. Fridman, for instance, now divides his time between Israel and Russia, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Last month, Russian former F1 driver Nikita Mazepin won his challenge against EU sanctions, and a year ago the General Court struck down sanctions against the mother of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group of mercenaries, who died last year.

The EU sanctioned Fridman and Aven on Feb. 28, 2022, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. It said both had close ties to the Kremlin and had sought to help Moscow lobby against international sanctions on Russia in the past. The EU said Fridman “has been referred to as a top Russian financier and enabler of Putin’s inner circle.”

Fridman has long insisted he has no influence on government policy or the execution of the war.

The EU sanctioned Alfa Bank in early March 2022, with Fridman and Aven quitting the bank’s board within hours of that decision. Last year, the U.S. Treasury said Fridman was still involved in the conglomerate.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that representatives of big businesses who are subject to sanctions have the opportunity to challenge such decisions, but he condemned the restrictions describing them as damaging and discriminatory.

“We consider all these sanctions illegal, unfair, destructive and, probably, even somewhat discreditable to the bodies that adopted them,” Peskov said.

Ann M. Simmons contributed to this article.

Write to Laurence Norman at and Max Colchester at

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