The Court of Justice of the European Union recently confirmed an EU Council’s decision to impose Libya-related restrictive measures upon Russian businessman Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin who was closely linked to Wagner Group, an organization involved in military operations in Libya. In October 2020, the Council imposed restrictive measures upon Progozhim that included the freezing of funds after determining that he had engaged in or supported acts that threatened the peace, stability or security of Libya. The Council also decided to extend these restrictive measures in July 2021. In response, Progozhin petitioned the court to request an annulment of the restrictive measures imposed in 2020 and 2021 claiming that the Council failed to state reasons for their decisions, relied upon evidence that was inadmissible, made an erroneous assessment of the facts, and claimed that the actions were ultimately an abuse of power and an infringement of his fundamental rights.
According to the Judgment of the General Court dated June 1, 2022, the court rejected the Progozhin’s application and confirmed the Council decisions to impose restrictive measures in 2020 and 2021. The court indicated that the Council provided Progozhin with sufficient reasons for imposing the measures, provided him with a legal basis and general context for the measures it adopted as well as a Statement of Reasons that contained actual and specific reasons for the Council’s decisions. The court also determined that the evidence against Progozhin was not inadmissible because it was comprised primarily of extracts from UN Secretary-General’s reports and press articles/photographs from news agencies that cited their sources, were accessible to the public, appeared to be sound and reliable and, therefore, had probative value. In addition, the court rejected the allegation that there was an erroneous assessment of facts finding instead that the documents produced in this matter not only made it possible to identify Wagner Group as a group that threatened the peace, security and stability in Libya but also established numerous links between Progozhin and Wagner Group.
Regarding the abuse-of-power allegation, the General Court determined that such an argument can only prevail if the Council’s actions were taken solely, or at least primarily, for reasons other than those for which the power was conferred, and, based on this evaluation, the court found no evidence that the measures were adopted for any reason other than its intended purpose. The court also determined that there was no infringement upon Progozhin’s right of the defence or his right of effective judicial protection because the Council effectively communicated its decisions and evidentiary documents to Progozhin, and he was given the opportunity to submit his observations which were examined by the Council. Finally, the court determined that there was no unjust infringement on Progozhin’s right to property or freedom to pursue a trade/profession or freedom of movement noting that these rights may be limited as long as the restriction, in this case the freezing of funds, corresponds to objectives that serve the public interest and the consequences are not disproportionate and intolerable when viewed in relation to their function in society and the goals pursued.