EU blacklists wife of Russian billionaire Melnichenko to curb bypassing sanctions

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FILE PHOTO: Russian billionaire Melnichenko attends a session during the Week of Russian Business in Moscow

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Friday blacklisted Aleksandra Melnichenko, the wife of Andrey Melnichenko, a previously sanctioned Russian billionaire who Reuters revealed had reassigned his companies to her in a bid to contain the business damage.

The sixth round of EU sanctions against Russia for waging a war against Ukraine took effect on Friday, including an embargo on most oil imports and removing Russia’s top lender Sberbank from the international SWIFT system.

Reuters reported that Melnichenko ceded ownership of two of the world’s largest coal and fertilizers companies – SUEK and EuroChem – to his wife Aleksandra on March 8, the day before the EU sanctioned him.

“Aleksandra Melnichenko takes good advantage of the fortune and benefits from the wealth of her husband. Together with him, she owns two penthouses with a value of more than 30 million dollars,” the EU said in explaining its decision.

“In March 2022, Aleksandra Melnichenko replaced her husband as the beneficial owner of Firstline Trust, managed by Linetrust PTC Ltd, a company which represents the ultimate owner of EuroChem Group.”

The ownership structure of the two companies runs through a chain of trusts and corporations stretching from Moscow and the Swiss town of Zug to Cyprus and Bermuda, according to legal filings reviewed by Reuters.

A spokesperson for EuroChem said the company had no immediate comment on Friday. A lawyer for the Melnichenko couple and a spokesperson for SUEK did not respond to messages seeking comment about the EU move.

On Friday, the EU also blacklisted two children and the wife of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as the bloc seeks to tighten its punitive measures against Russia.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Additional reporting by David Gauthier-Villars; Editing by Alison Williams)