* Rosneft is pursuing the case in EU General Court
* Says Iran banks winning against EU should help its case
* Sanctions have slowed Rosneft expansion, borrowing
By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Vladimir Soldatkin
LONDON/MOSCOW, April 4 Russian oil major Rosneft
hopes to benefit from European court rulings that have
allowed some Iranian banks to escape from European Union
Russia's largest oil firm has been subject to sanctions
since 2014, following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea
region. Chief Executive Igor Sechin, a close ally of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, is himself under sanctions.
Sanctions complicate fund-raising for the state-run Rosneft
and have prevented western companies from helping it develop
deepwater, shale and Arctic oil deposits, including a large
venture with Exxon Mobil.
Rosneft is attempting to annul EU sanctions in the European
General Court, following a ruling by the European Court of
Justice that the matter can be heard in Brussels.
Rosneft is challenging the legality of sanctions, saying the
General Court set a precedent when it annulled some EU sanctions
against Iranian banks. The decision was later confirmed by the
European Court of Justice.
Rosneft said the Iranian banks had successfully challenged
sanctions intended to curb Iran's nuclear programme because
there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the banks.
The General Court had recognised that the banks were not
involved in Tehran's nuclear activities, Rosneft said in legal
Rosneft is hoping to benefit from a similar attitude to
sanctions imposed over Ukraine. The oil firm said it had "not
committed any illegal actions in any jurisdiction, including
Ukraine, and has nothing to do with the Ukrainian crisis".
In 2014, the European Court of Justice struck down an EU
decision to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank, a measure
put in place prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.
Last year, Iran's Bank Mellat also won a case that its
assets should not have been frozen. It argued that it was not
linked to Iran's nuclear programme.
The EU council said it could not comment on the case in the
General Court (Case T-715/14) as it was still ongoing. The
timing of its ruling was not immediately known.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, a lawyer who represented Bank Mellat in its
case against the EU, said there were parallels with Rosneft's
"The EU has not been able so far to produce any evidence
that Rosneft ... was involved in or supported in any way the
conflict in Ukraine," he said.
"In 2016, an EU court ruled that EU sanctions on Bank Mellat
were imposed illegally because of lack of evidence of any
involvement by Mellat in Iran’s nuclear programme," Zaiwalla
(Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti in Brussels; Editing by