Germany: Prosecuting entrepreneur for alleged sanctions violations is against international law and human rights, UN expert warns

Geneva, 29 February, 2024.-  A UN expert today urged the German Government to drop charges against German entrepreneur, Alena Bekker, arguing that the EU’s unilateral sanctions and means of enforcing them are contrary to human rights standards.

“I maintain the principled position on the illegality of unilateral coercive measures and means of their enforcement, and note that the approach of the German authorities may constitute an arbitrary extension of the measures taken to enforce the application of already illegal unilateral sanctions, resulting in growing instances of over-compliance, with serious adverse effects on Ms. Bekker’s fundamental human rights,” said Alena Douhan, the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures.

Alena Bekker’s company, Texforum-Interhandel e.K., had several contracts to import wood and derived products from Belarus. The EU introduced a ban on imports of timber products on 2 March 2022 under Regulation (EC) No 765/2006. This ban excluded transactions to fulfil contracts concluded before that date, provided they were fulfilled before 4 June 2022.

“Although Ms. Bekker imported wood and derived timber products from Belarus on 3 April 2022 under two contracts signed in 2021, the Berlin-Brandenburg Customs Investigation Office seized the goods, refused to allow them to be imported and filed a criminal complaint,” Douhan said.

The expert noted that the Hauptzollamt Erfurt (German main customs authorities) reclassified linen briquettes as wood products in August 2022, seized them, denied import, and initiated criminal prosecution, despite the fact that Bekker had previously received a response from relevant authorities stating that linen briquettes were not subject to sanctions restrictions and could be imported into the European Union.

“I deeply regret that the German authorities didn’t take into account that in both cases Ms. Bekker appears to have acted in good faith and asked for information on the legality of the import of the goods,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Douhan noted that discrepancies in the interpretation of EU export restrictions by German authorities may be seen as a violation of the principle of legal certainty and the rule of law, and an expansion of criminal penalties for alleged circumvention of sanctions regimes.

German Customs reported all three cases to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, which subsequently opened a criminal investigation against Alena Bekker. On 28 March 2023, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office carried out searches and seizures of Bekker’s personal and company assets, including mobile phones, computers, files and other items.

“I note with concern that such overcompliance is having a serious adverse effect on Ms Bekker’s right to a fair trial, due process, right to privacy, freedom from discrimination and equality before the law, as well as negatively affecting her health and reputation,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the interrogations in Alena Bekker’s case have started on 19 February 2024. She called on Germany to comply with its obligations under international law and to drop the charges against Bekker, which are based on the extended interpretation of the EU’s unilateral sanctions and their means of enforcement, contrary to the principles and norms of international law and human rights standards.

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