Russian billionaire in court fight to be removed from sanctions list

Key points

  • A Russian billionaire claims he has suffered business losses and reputational damage after being included on Australia’s sanctions list. 
  • Alexander Abramov has launched legal action in the Federal Court against then foreign affairs minister Marise Payne.
  • He’s said even if Payne’s successor, Penny Wong, revoked the sanctions he would still pursue legal action.

Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov claims he has suffered business losses and severe damage to his reputation in the months after the Australian government included him on a list of sanctioned individuals over the war in Ukraine.

Abramov, who made his estimated $9 billion fortune in the steel industry, has launched legal action in the Federal Court against Australia’s then foreign affairs minister in an attempt to be removed from the list of business, military and political figures hit with sanctions in April.

Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov in Moscow in 2018.Credit:Getty Images

The 63-year-old has previously been publicly recognised by Russian President Vladimir Putin for his public and charity work, according to Forbes magazine.

But Abramov’s lawyers contend his inclusion on the list is invalid, and that he hasn’t assisted or promoted the Russian invasion.

The sanctions caused “severe reputational harm” and substantial losses “which are continuing”, his lawyer, Ron Merkel, QC, told the Federal Court in Melbourne on Friday.

He wants the sanctions to be removed, arguing they’re unique to Australia, as no other country has placed similar bans on Abramov, who co-founded Russia’s largest steel producer, Evraz.

Alexander Abramov (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg in 2017.Credit:Getty Images

“Our real point here is the approach the minister has taken is misconceived,” Merkel said.

Australia’s sanctions have also impacted Abramov’s dealings in New Zealand, Merkel said.

He said the case was unusual as public announcements by former foreign minister Marise Payne, explaining her decision, would form part of the suit.

In April, Payne announced the government had decided to impose “targeted financial sanctions and travel bans” on 67 individuals “for their role in Russia’s unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine”.

“The Australian government is committed to imposing the highest costs on those who bear responsibility for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine or hold levers of power,” she said.

Merkel told the court that even if Payne’s successor as minister, Penny Wong, revoked the sanctions list or revoked the order against the billionaire, he would still pursue legal action.

“We don’t know what will happen in the future. Whatever happens it will not deny these proceedings,” Merkel told Justice Susan Kenny during an administrative hearing.

“Our ultimate aim is to remove the sanction imposed … our real point is the approach the minister has taken is misconceived,” Merkel said.

It is not known whether Abramov has in the past done business with the Australian government or firms.

His lawyers and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been contacted for comment.

Barrister Brendan Lim, acting for Australian government, told the court he could not say whether the minister would make a new order on the sanctions.

The case is due to return to court this month.

with AAP

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