Ukraine’s richest oligarch launches lawsuit against Russia

Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch, has filed a lawsuit against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights, citing alleged violations of property rights and seizure of assets connected to its invasion.

Akhmetov is the majority owner of Metinvest, Ukraine’s largest steel producer and owner of two large mills including Azovstal. Located in the port city of Mariupol that Russian forces seized last month, Azovstal was the scene of some of the war’s most intense fighting.

The oligarch is a native of the occupied city of Donetsk, in the eastern Donbas region where Russia’s invading forces are concentrating their efforts to gain more territory.

Scores of steel industry businesses, coal mines and other assets in the region, as well as in southern Ukraine, that are owned by Akhmetov have been seized by Russian forces, he said.

The lawsuit seeks urgent “relief for Russia’s blockading, looting, destruction and diversion of grain and metals”, according to a statement issued by the oligarch’s System Capital Management group.

“Evil cannot go unpunished,” Akhmetov said in the statement.

“Russia’s crimes against Ukraine and our people are egregious, and those guilty of them must be held liable . . . This lawsuit is one of the first international legal steps against Russia to stop their ongoing crimes, destruction of the Ukrainian economy and the plundering of Ukrainian assets,” he added.

Before the war the country’s iron and steel industry was one of the biggest manufacturing sectors, responsible for nearly 10 per cent of gross domestic product and employing half a million people in its supply chain.

Ukraine was also one of the biggest exporters of finished steel products to the EU. Some producers, including Europe’s largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal, have managed to resume some exports in small volumes, but the loss of supply has driven up prices as customers from Italy to Bulgaria have scrambled to secure alternative sources.

The lawsuit comes after Metinvest last week urged customers not to buy any products made at its mills in Mariupol over fears they had been stolen by Russian forces. The company said that more than 234,000 tonnes of steel manufactured by its Ilyich Steel and Azovstal factories had been in storage when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, of which about 28,000 tonnes was already loaded on to four ships in the port of Mariupol.

The company told the Financial Times that 2,500 tonnes of that steel had since been taken by a Russian-owned ship that headed to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

The company was “in the process of documenting the war damage and collecting the respective evidence,” Svitlana Romanova, chief legal officer of Metinvest, told the FT in an interview last week.

“The process is long and burdensome for lack of access to locations, lost documents, misplaced employees, etc. We have already lodged criminal complaints in Ukraine and are planning to proceed with the damage claims at Ukrainian courts soon,” she added.

It remains unclear, however, whether Metinvest’s legal challenges will be successful.

Dmitry Peskov, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday that Russia had already withdrawn from the court’s jurisdictions and would not bow to its decisions. “The answer here is completely obvious,” Peskov told reporters when asked about the lawsuit from Akhmetov.

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