Lukashenko ally challenges sanctions in EU court
(VILNIUS) - A top ally of Belarus's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has launched a court challenge to European Union sanctions against him and his companies, his Lithuanian lawyers said Tuesday.
Vilija Vaitkute Pavan, a partner at the Vilnius-based firm LAWIN, said Vladimir Peftiev has asked a European Union court to overturn the sanctions on the grounds that they breach his freedom of movement in the 27-nation bloc and his property rights.
"Every person has a right to a defence and only a court, after examining all important circumstances, can take a decision on a person's guilt or the validity and legitimacy of sanctions applied to a person," Vaikute Pavan told AFP.
In June, the EU stepped up the pressure on Lukashenko in the wake of a renewed crackdown on opponents of his 17-year-old regime.
It slapped EU-entry bans and asset freezes on a swathe of Lukashenko allies and businesses linked to Belarus's inner circle.
Among those hit was Peftiev, who is nicknamed "Lukashenko's wallet" by the embattled opposition.
His three firms -- arms company Beltechexport, telecoms operator Beltelcom and marketing business Sport-Pari -- were also on the list.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko has launched a series of crackdowns against the opposition over the years, and swung between trying to mend fences with the EU and sparring with the bloc.
Like Belarus, neighbouring Lithuania won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991. But the two countries have followed very different paths since then.
Lithuania is firmly anchored in the West, having joined the EU and NATO in 2004.
Lithuania has repeatedly said it wants to help spur reforms in Belarus and bring the country closer to the EU.