Russian billionaire launches legal action against Australia’s foreign minister over sanctions

The Guardian reported over the weekend..

Alexander Abramov’s lawyer says his client has not ‘given aid or comfort’ to Russian government’s war in Ukraine

Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov has launched legal action against Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, seeking to be removed from the list of people the government has hit with sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Abramov, who lives in Switzerland and made a fortune estimated at more than US$6bn from the Russian steel industry, was among business, military and political figures sanctioned by Australia in April.

His lawyer, Stewart Levitt, told Guardian Australia his client “doesn’t satisfy the definition of a person who should be on the sanctions list”.

“It is not inappropriate to have sanctions against people who further the interests of the Russian government, but we say that Mr Abramov is not in the category of a person who has the requisite influence. He is a businessman, a successful businessman, but he is not a person who should be targeted [by sanctions],” Levitt said.

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“He’s not someone who has given aid or comfort to the Russian government in terms of promoting the war aims of Russia.

“He’s effectively a private citizen, living outside of Russia, conducting business and ought not to be caught up in the net which has been cast by the Australian government.”

Levitt said the sanctions would stop his client making transactions with or visiting Australia.

However, he said they had no immediate effect because Abramov does not currently live in or transact with Australia.

“But nevertheless, he can’t see any justification for being on a sanctions list, promulgated by the Australian government,” Levitt said.

While he does not have business interests in Australia, Abramov is reported to hold property in New Zealand that includes an estate in Helena Bay worth tens of millions of dollars.

His case against the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, was filed in the Australian federal court on Thursday. Wong’s predecessor as minister, Marise Payne, signed the instrument imposing the sanctions in early April.

Wong’s office and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were contacted for comment on the legal case. Dfat holds the position that it cannot comment on applications before the courts.

The challenge has emerged as Russia introduced retaliatory sanctions against a range of Australian media figures, including Lachlan Murdoch and the ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, along with academic and defence force figures.

Moscow argued the sanctions were against people pursuing a “Russophobic agenda”.

Four academics from the Australian National University, including its vice-chancellor, Prof Brian Schmidt, were included on the list of Australians subjected to Russian travel bans on Friday morning.

A spokesperson for the ANU said its academics played “a pivotal role in helping Australia and the world better understand complex issues every day, including war”.

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