New EU General Court sanctions decision: Case T‑406/13 Gossio
On 14 January 2015 the General Court handed down its judgment in Gossio, a sanctions case.
Gossio concerned an application for annulment of Regulation 560/2005, Council Decision 2010/656/CFSP and Council Implementing Decision 2012/144/CFSP (establishing restrictive measures in view of the situation in Côte d’Ivoire), and of the decision of 17 May 2013 confirming and prolonging the above mentioned restrictive measures in so far as they maintained the listing of the applicant. Mr Gossio later amended his application to include annulment of Council Implementing Decision 2014/271/CFSP and Council Implementing Regulation 479/2014 in so far as they maintained his listing. Requests by Mr Gossio to the Council to remove his name from the relevant sanctions list had been repeatedly rejected.
Council Implementing Decision 2012/144/CFSP stated the following about Mr Gossio:
The General Court held that:
Case T‑406/13 Marcel Gossio v Council, 14 January 2015, currently only available in French
Has fled Côte d’Ivoire. Subject of an international arrest warrant. Involved in the misappropriation of public funds and in the funding and arming of the militia. Instrumental to the funding of the Gbagbo clan and of the militia. Also a central figure in illegal arms trafficking. The sizeable sums of money he has misappropriated and his familiarity with the illegal arms networks make him a continued threat to the security and stability of Côte d’Ivoire.
- The first plea (misuse of powers and manifest error of assessment) was rejected as regards the decision of 17 May 2013, but accepted as regards Council Implementing Decision 2014/271/CFSP and Council Implementing Regulation 479/2014.
- On misuse of powers, there was no contradiction between the initial legal bases for the restrictive measures and the most recent grounds for maintaining them. There was no evidence to show that the procedure leading to the contested acts was intended to achieve anything other than the objectives stated in the decision and the regulation. The restrictive measures were not addressed solely to persons threatening the electoral process in Côte d’Ivoire. Their objective was to fight against obstruction of the peace and reconciliation process in Côte d’Ivoire, and the applicant had been deemed a threat to the country’s security and stability.
- On manifest error of assessment, the Council had been correct in concluding that Mr Gossio had fled the country, as there was no evidence that his departure was motivated by fear for his life or of mistreatment. He had only been awarded refugee status after his listing. It was not for the court to pass judgment on the political situation in Côte d’Ivoire, so the applicant’s contention that the Ivorian authorities had not been impartial in issuing the warrant could not be considered. Moreover, it was not relevant that other persons considered by the Council as having fled and being the subject of an arrest warrant had seen the sanctions against them lifted. Other, additional grounds for Mr Gossio’s listing had been brought by the Council. The Council’s allegation of misappropriation of public funds had been based on presumptions raised in an introductory application by an Ivorian public prosecutor. The Council’s allegation that Mr Gossio was instrumental to the funding of the Gbagbo clan and of the militia was also justified as it was based on reliable evidence, including Reports of the International Commission of Inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire and a UN Security Council Report. However, as to Council Implementing Decision 2014/271/CFSP and Council Implementing Regulation 479/2014 the Council did not take into consideration certain changes in Mr Gossio’s circumstances, notably his meetings with the new Ivorian goverment and his public declarations of support for the peace and reconciliation process, the fact that Switzerland had lifted the sanctions against him and his acquired refugee status. The Council did not bring additional information or evidence to justify Mr Gossio’s continued listing under the aforementioned instruments.
- The second plea (infringement of fundamental rights) was rejected as regards the decision of 17 May 2013.
- The applicant’s right to the presumption of innocence had not been infringed. This presumption did not preclude the adoption of asset-freezing measures (such as the sanctions under consideration here), which did not give rise to criminal proceedings and were subject to regular review.
- The applicant’s right to carry on business, his right of property and the principle of proportionality had not been infringed by the asset-freezing measures. The first two rights were not absolute. The sanctions imposed on the applicant were precautionary measures which contributed to the implementation of an objective of general interest to the international community, namely the fight against obstruction of the peace and reconciliation process in Côte d’Ivoire. In view of this objective, the freezing of the applicant’s assets was not disproportionate. Moreover, Member States could make exemptions for basic and other expenses, and the sanctions measures were subject to regular review.
- The applicant’s right to respect for private and family life and the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment had not been infringed, for the same reasons as for the right to carry on business, the right of property and the principle of proportionality above. The sanctions did not target the applicant’s wife or children, none of whom was listed. Moreover, France had effectively already authorised the use of the applicant’s funds for necessary medical treatment.
- In conclusion, Council Implementing Decision 2014/271/CFSP and Council Implementing Regulation 479/2014 were annulled in so far as they affected Mr Gossio.
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