Reuters International

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich makes a statement during a news conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU's second-highest court on Thursday upheld financial sanctions imposed on Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovich, who fled the country in 2014 after a popular uprising.

Yanukovich, who fled to Russia, challenged the European Union's sanctions, imposed in response to allegations of embezzlement and financial wrongdoing, in the General Court.

The court's action, which took effect in March 2014, meant he and his son lost access to funds they hold in European banks.

The court said it confirmed the freezing of funds from March 2015 to March 2016.

But Yanukovich won his challenge against sanctions from March 2014 to March 2015 because EU governments did not provide enough proof of wrongdoing, basing the measures only on a letter from Ukraine's prosecutor, the court said.

The European Union has extended the sanctions until March 2017. Yanukovich's lawyer said the former president would also appeal against the extension, which the court is also expected to rule on.

"These decisions represent a significant victory for our clients," lawyer Joe Hage said. "They show that the basis for the sanctions is flimsy."

An EU official rejected that, saying the ruling "confirmed the solidity of EU sanctions policy."

All the Yanukovich funds remain frozen and the annulment for 2014/15 amounts only to a technicality, according to a person familiar with the judgement. Typically in such cases, any interest payments due are paid into a frozen account.

Interpol has put Yanukovich on the international wanted list at the behest of Kiev authorities, although Moscow is not expected to extradite him.

Yanukovich has denied any involvement in corruption. He can appeal against the ruling to the EU's top court within the next two months.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in BRUSSELS, Jack Stubbs in MOSCOW; editing by Francesco Guarascio and John Stonestreet)

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