(Bloomberg) -- Russian metals tycoon Alisher Usmanov claims his fame and fortune rather than links to President Vladimir Putin made him a target for European Union sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine.  

Usmanov’s lawyers told an EU court hearing he was unfairly targeted as “prey” by officials because he was a “visible symbol” known to the public.

While “no one” knows the lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, who voted in favor of last year’s invasion, “many people” know Usmanov, not only for being one of the wealthiest men of Russia, but also as a former major shareholder of the Arsenal Football Club, and for having built the biggest private yacht, his lawyer said at the EU’s lower court on Tuesday. 

“He is rich, very, very rich and he is known, these are the reasons for the sanctions,” Jerome Grand d’Esnon, Usmanov’s lawyer, told the EU General Court at a hearing. “These are obviously no grounds based on which restrictive measures can be pronounced.” 

Usmanov, 69, owns 49% of USM, a Russia-based investment group that controls Metalloinvest, Russia’s largest iron ore producer, and a stake in MegaFon, a Moscow-based telecommunications company. He is Russia’s fifth richest person with a net worth of $18.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. On top of Russian citizenship he is also an honorable citizen of Uzbekistan, where he was born.

Russian Billionaire Files Appeal Over EU Sanctions 

“It’s not simply because he is extremely rich,” but “because a combination of elements leads to the conclusion that the applicant provides material and financial support to Russian decision-makers,” said Diane Laurent, a lawyer for the Council of the EU, which adopts such sanctions.

The EU has sanctioned almost 1,500 people and 207 entities since Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, starting with its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and followed by its invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Usmanov is among dozens of billionaires, including Roman Abramovich, and family members who’ve flocked to the bloc’s top courts in an attempt to extricate themselves from the list and have their funds unfrozen. 

EU court fights over sanctions can last years and seldom result in victory for those targeted. Former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych and his son remain on the EU’s sanctions list since 2014, even after winning challenges to their inclusion on the 2020 version.

German authorities last year carried out nationwide raids of properties linked to Usmanov as part of a probe looking into sanctions violation because he allegedly kept and paid security staff to look after a luxury compound in Bavaria. A Frankfurt court later declared those searches illegal. 

The case is: T-237/22, Usmanov v. Conseil.

--With assistance from Yuliya Fedorinova.

(Updates with court ruling on raids in final paragraph)

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