(Bloomberg) — Yandex NV co-founder Arkady Volozh shouldn’t have been sanctioned after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as he was never close to the Russian president and has blasted Russia’s aggression toward its neighbor, a European Union court was told.
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“This is not about another businessman who built his wealth on the wave of privatization and state contracts,” William Julie, a lawyer for the tech magnate, told the EU’s General Court.
Volozh took the “hugely courageous step” in August to condemn “the government’s ‘barbaric’ war against Ukraine” and now lives under “the permanent threat of retaliation” from Russia, Julie told judges at a hearing on Wednesday.
Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, has been registered in the Netherlands since 2007, but has come under intense pressure both in Russia and abroad since Putin ordered the February 2022 invasion. Volozh resigned as the company’s chief executive officer after the EU sanctioned him last year for Yandex’s role in promoting Russian propaganda and disinformation about the war.
Read More: Yandex Founder Condemns Russian War as Deal to Split Firm Stalls
Yandex plans to sell its entire Russian business, including the nation’s most popular search engine. Volozh’s criticism of the war had made potential investors wary of a partnership with the Dutch-domiciled parent company.
“Russia is now a country that he will never be able to return to,” said Philip Goeth, another lawyer for Volozh. It’s wrong to say “he is a major shareholder of Yandex,” because he holds no legal ownership or any control over the company and transferred legal title over an 8.6% economic interest in Yandex NV to an independent trustee, the lawyer said.
“It would simply be wrong to conclude that a man who is now considered as an enemy” of the state “is involved in economic sectors in Russia,” Goeth said.
A lawyer for the EU rejected such arguments as false, saying that at the time he was a leading businessman and remains so today.
The EU has sanctioned close to 1,800 people and entities since Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, starting with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and last year’s invasion.
President Putin in December called the anti-war condemnations of businessmen like Volozh as little more than an attempt to safeguard their assets abroad. Putin called Volozh a “gifted” entrepreneur and wished him “good health.”
(Updates with details on Dutch base in fourth paragraph)
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