The bloc had blacklisted Violetta Prigozhina a day before Russia’s invasion.
BRUSSELS: A top European Union court today annulled sanctions against the mother of Yevgeny Prigozhin, saying the bloc failed to prove her role in the actions of her son, who heads Russia’s Wagner mercenary group fighting in Ukraine.
The annulment was rare amid EU sanctions against Russia, many of which were imposed promptly, that cover nearly 1,700 individuals and entities, as well as trade restrictions worth tens of billions of dollars.
The EU had blacklisted Violetta Prigozhina, saying business links with her son, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, made her complicit in Russia’s aggression against its neighbour.
“The general court annuls the restrictive measures applied to Ms Violetta Prigozhina … in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” the bloc’s second highest court said.
The ruling said the EU failed to provide proof of the mother’s role in Prigozhin’s actions, and her blacklisting was “based solely on their family relationship”.
The ruling takes effect if an appeal window of two months and ten days lapses, or if the decision is upheld in appeal, said a spokesman for the court.
“That is not reassuring, of course everyone in the EU would rather see the opposite ruling,” said an EU official who spoke under condition of anonymity due to the legal nature of the matter.
“But we have to analyse it now and understand the justification, maybe not all is lost.”
The official said the EU’s options were to delist Prigozhina, appeal the ruling or relist her with more evidence.
Prigozhin did not instantly respond to a request for comment and Reuters could not immediately reach his mother for comment.
A lawyer for Prigozhina and his law firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The EU had blacklisted Violetta Prigozhina a day before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago on Feb 24, meaning she could not travel to the bloc and her assets held in the union were frozen.
The bloc said at the time that she had business links with her son, who deployed fighters in Ukraine and had secured Russian defence contracts following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Kyiv in 2014 and the ensuing backing of rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Prigozhina’s challenge said the EU had failed to specify reasons for her blacklisting and sanctioned her only to put pressure on her son, according to the general court.
“It cannot legitimately be inferred from the links to her son that she may have contributed to compromising the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” according to information describing her challenge published by the general court.
The ruling can be appealed to the bloc’s top court, the Court of Justice of the EU.
The EU executive European Commission and the European Council, which represents the EU’s 27 member states, were analysing the ruling, the two bodies’ spokesmen said.
The EU has increasingly moved to blacklist spouses and family members of key officials and businessmen deemed responsible for Russia’s war against Ukraine saying relatives help shield assets from sanctions to avoid punishment.
Back in January, Prigozhin reacted with sarcasm to new sanctions against Wagner imposed by the US.
Separately today, Prigozhin said his forces had captured part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
The EU also has sanctions in place against Prigozhin, his wife and son, some senior Wagner figures and the group’s collaborators in Syria.
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