A Russian billionaire businessman can influence his government even without direct political connections, the foreign minister’s lawyer suggests.
Alexander Abramov, who became head of Russia’s largest steelmaker Evraz, is suing Foreign Minister Penny Wong in the Federal Court after the former government imposed sanctions on 67 Russian elites and oligarchs in April over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sanctions imposed by former foreign secretary Maurice Payne on Mr Abramoff were later withdrawn, but then promptly reinstated by Ms Wong in September.
Mr Abramov’s lawyer rejected claims by the Australian government that the steel magnate was of economic or strategic importance to Russia, pointing to his self-proclaimed lack of political connections and his resignation as chairman of Evraz.
The Australian government has previously said it is unlikely that the high-profile businessman, who is worth an estimated $6.4 billion, is not linked to the Russian government.
Barrister Perry Herzfeld SC, representing Ms Wong, told the Federal Court on Wednesday that the sanctions were not limited to those with direct influence over foreign governments.
Even if Mr. Abramov’s claims about his lack of government influence were correct, the influence could have occurred indirectly — in his case, through Evraz, Mr. Herzfeld said.
According to him, both decisions to impose sanctions on him focused on his influence on Evraz, not on the government.
“The mere fact of a conviction … can create influence on foreign governments,” Mr. Herzfeld told the court.
Significant people do not lose their ability to influence others just because they give up a certain role, he suggested.
The government has rejected Mr. Abramov’s claims that it made mistakes when it sanctioned him, ignoring his resignation as chairman of Evraz in March and mistakenly naming him as a co-founder of the company.
The businessman’s lawyers were wrong to argue that the minister’s decision could have been overturned by simple factual errors, Mr Herzfeld said.
“There is no error of law in simply having the facts wrong,” he said.
The hearing continues.