* EU governments set to impose sanctions on Russia over
* Iran experience shows sanctions must be legally watertight
* Sanctions could be difficult to challenge in court
By Justyna Pawlak
BRUSSELS, March 13 The European Union is taking
extra care in drawing up sanctions against Russia over Crimea to
avoid legal loopholes that could allow targeted officials to
challenge them in court, as happened with measures against
Iran's nuclear programme.
If, as expected, EU foreign ministers approve a list on
Monday of people, firms or institutions they blame for harming
the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the bloc may still have to
defend the measures in court, legal experts and diplomats say.
But those hoping to sue to get their names off the list may
have a tough case to make.
EU officials have already started drawing up the list after
agreeing the framework this week for measures to freeze assets
and impose travel bans. The final decision will only come after
Sunday's referendum held by pro-Moscow authorities in Crimea on
bringing the Ukrainian Black Sea province under Moscow's rule.
Washington has announced similar plans for travel bans and
asset freezes and also has yet to unveil its target list.
In the past, Brussels has lost cases in EU court over
sanctions imposed on Iranian firms when targeted companies
successfully asserted that Brussels had not proven their
involvement in Iran's nuclear programme. Those cases became a
headache for Brussels although they did not substantially weaken
the overall sanctions programme.
EU diplomats say the bloc's lawyers have pressed them to
make sure that the names they include on the Russia list will
stand up in court. Proof must be provided that those on the list
were responsible for "actions which undermine or threaten the
territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine",
as spelled out in the framework approved this week.
"The legal services said sanctions must be legally
watertight and there must be a clear link between the framework
and the subject," one diplomat said.
Another said: "The crux is to match the names with the
criteria and to have the evidence."
One lawyer with a private firm in London who has represented
people targeted by EU sanctions in the past said the push for
sanctions on Russians had generated many inquiries about the
potential impact and legal standing of the measures.
The lawyer said the wording of the sanctions framework over
Russia may make it easier for Brussels to defend legal
challenges from Russians than it proved in the case of Iran.
Domestic politics in Russia would make it hard for officials
to assert that they opposed President Vladimir Putin's Ukraine
policy, said the lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity
because of prior involvement in sanctions cases.
"My hunch is it could be difficult to win such cases," the
lawyer said, "It is legitimate to assume that anyone in
government is part of government policy unless they distance
themselves. And they may not want to do that."
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Additional reporting by Luke
Baker and Megan Davies; Editing by Peter Graff)