* EU court rules on Bank Tejarat, 40 shipping firms
* EU given time to reinstate sanctions or appeal
BRUSSELS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The European Union’s second highest court on Thursday annulled EU sanctions on an Iranian bank and 40 shipping companies hit with asset freezes as part of pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme.
But they will remain under sanctions for now after the General Court gave the EU time to appeal or to decide whether to re-impose sanctions using different legal grounds.
The court’s rulings were handed down as six major powers and Iran strive to meet an end-June deadline for a long-term agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
The EU put Bank Tejarat, an Iranian commercial bank, under sanctions in 2012, saying it had helped Iran’s nuclear efforts.
The General Court struck down the sanctions, saying the Council of EU governments had failed to prove that Bank Tejarat had provided support for nuclear proliferation or had helped others to avoid sanctions. It also said the bank was partially privatised in 2009 and the Iranian state was no longer its majority shareholder.
The General Court also struck down EU sanctions on 40 shipping companies, including Hamburg-based Ocean Capital Administration GmbH.
The companies were placed on the EU sanctions list because it said they were controlled or otherwise linked to Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which had previously been put under sanctions.
The court found that at the time the 40 companies were placed on the sanctions list the EU had not given valid reasons for saying that Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines was supporting nuclear proliferation.
It therefore annulled the sanctions against the 40 companies but again gave the EU time either to appeal or to reinstate the sanctions using new legal grounds.
The Council of EU governments could not immediately be reached for comment.
The decisions were the latest in a number of legal reverses the EU has suffered over the validity of its sanctions. It has responded to similar court decisions by relisting Iranian companies using different criteria. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Janet Lawrence)