Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov has launched legal action against Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, seeking to be removed from the list of people the government has hit with sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Abramov, who lives in Switzerland and made a fortune estimated at more than US$6bn from the Russian steel industry, was among business, military and political figures sanctioned by Australia in April.
His lawyer, Stewart Levitt, told Guardian Australia his client “doesn’t satisfy the definition of a person who should be on the sanctions list”.
“It is not inappropriate to have sanctions against people who further the interests of the Russian government, but we say that Mr Abramov is not in the category of a person who has the requisite influence. He is a businessman, a successful businessman, but he is not a person who should be targeted [by sanctions],” Levitt said.
“He’s not someone who has given aid or comfort to the Russian government in terms of promoting the war aims of Russia.
“He’s effectively a private citizen, living outside of Russia, conducting business and ought not to be caught up in the net which has been cast by the Australian government.”
Levitt said the sanctions would stop his client making transactions with or visiting Australia.
However, he said they had no immediate effect because Abramov does not currently live in or transact with Australia.
“But nevertheless, he can’t see any justification for being on a sanctions list, promulgated by the Australian government,” Levitt said.
While he does not have business interests in Australia, Abramov is reported to hold property in New Zealand that includes an estate in Helena Bay worth tens of millions of dollars.
His case against the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, was filed in the Australian federal court on Thursday. Wong’s predecessor as minister, Marise Payne, signed the instrument imposing the sanctions in early April.
Wong’s office and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were contacted for comment on the legal case. Dfat holds the position that it cannot comment on applications before the courts.
The challenge has emerged as Russia introduced retaliatory sanctions against a range of Australian media figures, including Lachlan Murdoch and the ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, along with academic and defence force figures.
Moscow argued the sanctions were against people pursuing a “Russophobic agenda”.
Four academics from the Australian National University, including its vice-chancellor, Prof Brian Schmidt, were included on the list of Australians subjected to Russian travel bans on Friday morning.
A spokesperson for the ANU said its academics played “a pivotal role in helping Australia and the world better understand complex issues every day, including war”.
“We will continue to support our experts to speak about the war in Ukraine and its tragic consequences,” the spokesperson said.
The South Australian premier, Peter Malinauskas, who was also on the sanctions list, said he was pleased that his government had sent “a very clear message that the people of South Australia stand firmly with Ukraine”.
“I am very grateful for the fact that Vladimir Putin has paid attention to the leading role that South Australia is playing in trying to stand up for the democratic values that we collectively as a country hold dear,” Malinauskas told reporters in Canberra.
The new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is expected to travel to a Nato summit in Madrid later this month.
“One of the reasons why Australia has been invited to Nato is that Australia is the largest non-Nato contributor to give support to Ukraine in its defence of its national sovereignty against Russia’s illegal, immoral invasion and we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine,” Albanese said.
Australia has moved with its allies and partners, including US, UK and EU, to expand sanctions.