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Full Rehabilitation of Mykola Azarov

European Court of Justice:

As a consequence of a decision by the European Court of Justice, the Council of the European Union also lost the last case against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Attorney-at-law Gabriel Lansky regards the “judgment as a first ground-breaking court decision that strengthens human rights and reins in political arbitrariness”.

In its recently published judgment dated 16 December 2020 (Rs T-286/19), the European Court of Justice ascertains the full rehabilitation of Mykola Azarov because the sanctions were arbitrary and unlawful. For Mykola Azarov this confirms his view that he “was put on the list of sanctions solely on political grounds.  This highlights an abuse of power of an exceptional kind by the Council of the European Union. It is in complete contrast to the human rights which are readily and repeatedly cited. Even for me – a politician with many years of experience – this comes as a surprise, namely how obviously the then government of Poroshenko manipulated the Council of the European Union, which then obligingly trampled on all European fundamental values.” The judgment is revealing and embarrassing for all those who took part in this list of sanctions, says the former Prime Minister. 

Lansky: “In Europe nobody should be outlawed without giving a reason.” 

Azarov was represented by the Vienna-based law firm Lansky, Ganzger & Partner (LGP), which has conducted the lawsuits against the Council of the European Union since 2014. In a first reaction Lansky stated that the judgment is “a strong indication of an independent administration of justice. The decision is guided by facts, calling for political responsibility instead of arbitrariness.” In Lansky’s view, the court decision is ground-breaking from a human rights’ perspective. “In the future, the Council of the European Union should first obtain information before issuing sanctions against persons. After all, it is Mykola Azarov today, but it may be a disagreeable journalist tomorrow, where allegations will be trumped up, so as to have him put on a list of sanctions. Especially in connection with lists of sanctions the Council has a great responsibility and must not be abused as an obliging instrument by any random political system that wishes to prosecute disagreeable persons.”   

The road to justice was not an easy course, sometimes it felt like speaking upwind. This is Alexander Egger’s experience, who is the LGP lawyer responsible for the case. “This is such a political case; so many did not think that it would end successfully. However, ultimately it turned out that Europe has a well-functioning legal system: Politics have to follow the law“, says Egger. For him it was obvious from the beginning that the accusations had been made up in order to prevent Azarov from returning to the political arena. “Neither the Ukrainian General Prosecutor could present any sound evidence against Azarov, nor did Azarov ever have any assets in the European Union that could be frozen. That was known from the very beginning.” 

It can also be deduced from the judgment of the European Court of Justice that Azarov’s right to effective legal protection and his rights of defense had been curtailed in Ukraine during Poroshenko. “And these are particularly essential elements of the rule of law, which the EU keeps on demanding – for itself and for neighboring states,” says Egger.

The end of a long story: The accusations against Azarov are completely unfounded

Shortly after the revolution in Ukraine, the Council of the European Union thoughtlessly placed Mykola Azarov, the Ukrainian Prime Minister who had resigned on 28 January 2014, on the so-called “list of sanctions” in March 2014, following a request by the former Ukrainian government. As a result, Azarov was exposed to unsubstantiated allegations of “having embezzled public funds”, which he consistently denied vehemently, offering any number of evidentiary material. In the meantime the EU, too, seems to have realized that these charges were apparently only a pretext to discredit Azarov and thus also the then government. 

By putting Mykola Azarov on the list of sanctions, the Council of the EU also caused the former Prime Minister to suffer massive economic and personal constraints, in addition to losing his international reputation. However, in 2014 Azarov managed just in time to retain the services of the Lansky, Ganzger & Partner (LGP) law firm to represent him in this matter. After six years, the EU’s Court of Justice ultimately granted the last lawsuit and thus issued a final judgment in favor of the former Prime Minister as well as the rule of law.

Beginning in 2014, Mykola Azarov sued against every extension of the sanctions imposed on him and won all lawsuits, either in the first instance at the Court of Justice or on an appellate level at the General Court. 

  • In December 2017 Azarov succeeded in obtaining an epoch-making leading decision. The European Court of Justice ordered the EU, especially Council, to observe compliance with the rule of law, namely by the bodies of the European Union, either directly or by examining whether the Ukrainian authorities were observing the relevant human-rights principles. As this was not the case, the CJEU successively and retroactively lifted the sanctions imposed as of 2015. On the basis of this consolidated new judicial practice, it was already the first-instance Court of Justice that lifted the last two sanctions.
  • In March 2020, Azarov was the highest-ranking politician to date whose name was deleted from the list of sanctions. It was on the basis of the court decisions which Mykola Azarov had obtained, that the Council could no longer rely on the politically motivated actions of the Ukrainian General Prosecutor as a basis for its sanctions. 
  • On 16 December 2020 the last of the sanctions imposed in 2019, which actually have expired in the meantime, were declared null and void. This is an additional success story because the Council tried to rescue its sanctions after the devastating judgment by the CJEU in 2017 by providing an additional justification which, however, could be unmasked as a sham reason in the course of the proceedings.

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