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Abramovich ally says UK sanctions imposed due to 'pressure' on minister

FILE PHOTO: Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich

LONDON (Reuters) - A billionaire ally of Russian businessman Roman Abramovich renewed his bid to overturn British sanctions at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, saying he was targeted because of pressure put on then Foreign Secretary Liz Truss by a Cabinet colleague.

Oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler was sanctioned in March 2022 on the grounds of his association with former Chelsea Football Club owner Abramovich. His two private jets were also seized.

Britain also cited Shvidler's position as a director of London-listed Russian steel producer Evraz and role at Russian oil company Sibneft, sold by Abramovich in 2005, as evidence he obtained a financial benefit from Abramovich.

But Shvidler, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $1.5 billion, argues that Britain was wrong to impose sanctions just because of his relationship with Abramovich, whom he described as a close friend.

He lost his initial challenge to the sanctions in August and is asking the Court of Appeal in London to rule that the imposition of sanctions was unlawful.

The case is the first substantive appellate test of British sanctions imposed following Russia's Ukraine invasion. In response, Britain has sanctioned more than 1,600 people and frozen over 18 billion pounds ($22.8 billion) in assets.

'PRESSURE' ON MINISTER

Shvidler's lawyer David Anderson said in court filings that recently-disclosed documents revealed that Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary at that time, put "pressure" on Truss to sanction Shvidler. Anderson said that this was done "at short notice and on the basis of limited information".

Government lawyers said the new documents were irrelevant to the issue of whether the sanctions imposed were lawful.

"There is nothing improper about inter-departmental cooperation of this nature," James Eadie said in court filings.

Shvidler's appeal is being heard alongside a case brought by Russian businessman Sergei Naumenko, whose 58.5 metre superyacht was detained in London in March 2022.

Alexa Magee, a legal researcher at campaign group Spotlight on Corruption, said a victory for Britain would "underscore the government's wide remit" when imposing sanctions.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin. Editing by Jane Merriman)