Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a...

Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a conference of the Israel Keren Hayesod foundation in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven won a court case Wednesday against a European Union’s decision to sanction the pair for their role in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Credit: AP/Pavel Golovkin

BRUSSELS — Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven won a court case Wednesday over a European Union decision to sanction them for their alleged role in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The EU General Court said a lack of evidence justified their removal from a list of persons who faced restrictive measures between February 2022 and March 2023. The EU in March last year kept Aven and Fridman on the lists. The two have also challenged that decision in separate cases still pending.

Fridman is a founder of Alfa Group and ranks as one of Russia’s wealthiest tycoons. The group’s Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest non-state bank, was sanctioned by the EU in March 2022, prompting Fridman to leave the board to try to help the bank skirt sanctions. Aven headed Alfa Bank until March 2022, but like Fridman left the board after the EU move.

The EU has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia since Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine. The measures have targeted the energy sector, banks, the world’s biggest diamond-mining company, businesses and markets, and subjected Russian officials — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — to asset freezes and travel bans.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed Wednesday's ruling.

“Of course representatives of big business have the opportunity to challenge these sanctions decisions ... and they are doing that,” Peskov told reporters. “In any case, we consider all these sanctions illegal, unfair and destructive."

Neither Fridman nor Aven had directly criticized the war. They instead asked well-known anti-war Russians to sign a letter asking that EU sanctions against them be lifted.

Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a...

Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a conference of the Israel Keren Hayesod foundation in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven won a court case Wednesday against a European Union’s decision to sanction the pair for their role in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Credit: AP/Pavel Golovkin

Leonid Volkov, the chief of staff to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, signed the letter and later said he regretted doing so.

Volkov said the decision to delist Fridman and Aven was “very bad” because it showed that tycoons could have sanctions lifted without publicly criticizing Putin or the war in Ukraine.

“What the Europeans have done now makes no sense,” Volkov wrote on social platform X.

“Fridman and Aven never said a word in public against the war and did not go into conflict with Putin. The EU Court simply gave them what they wanted on a silver platter. For what? What signal is the court sending to Putin, his friends, and Russian oligarchs?” he added.

Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a...

Russian businessman and co-founder of Alfa-Group Mikhail Fridman attends a conference of the Israel Keren Hayesod foundation in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Russian businessmen Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven won a court case Wednesday against a European Union’s decision to sanction the pair for their role in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Credit: AP/Pavel Golovkin

Aven, of Russian and Latvian nationality, and Fridman, who holds Russian and Israeli passports, were placed on the list for restrictive measures after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The two challenged the decision and the General Court said their inclusion was not justified because there was insufficient evidence that they provided material or financial support to Russian decision-makers, or were associated with war efforts undermining Ukraine.

“The General Court considers that none of the reasons set out in the initial acts is sufficiently substantiated and that the inclusion of Mr Aven and Mr Fridman on the lists at issue was therefore not justified,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.

Fridman has called the war a tragedy and for the “bloodshed” to end. He previously lived in Britain but reportedly returned to Moscow after fighting between Israel and Hamas began.

Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions against four Russians on the board of Alfa Group, including Aven and Fridman.

Rulings by the General Court can be appealed to the European Court of Justice.

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