Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko and his wife Aleksandra want to be removed from Canada’s sanctions list, claiming in Federal Court that they were wrongly labeled close associates of Moscow.

The Melnichenkos filed two applications in the Federal Court of Canada in late March, seeking to overturn a decision to place them under sanctions related to the war in Ukraine.

Court documents obtained by The Canadian Press reveal that the couple have been fighting since October 2022 against their inclusion on Canada’s “designated persons” list under the Russian sanctions regime.

In February, Justin Trudeau’s government announced changes to the Special Economic Measures (Russia) Act, including adding the Melnichenkos to a list of 122 people linked to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The couple claim that the Canadian government has not provided them with any evidence to support their inclusion on the Sanctioned Persons Document.

The list includes Russian elites and political decision-makers deemed to be “engaged in activities that facilitate, support, provide funds to, or contribute to a violation or attempted violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.”

“Mr. Melnichenko does not have, and has not had, any association with the government of Russia or President Putin,” Andrey Melnichenko’s petition states. He left Russia 20 years ago and has lived in Switzerland for 13 years. The Minister has no reasonable grounds to believe otherwise,” the court document states.

His wife, a former Serbian model and pop singer, claims that she was wrongly targeted by Canadian sanctions, since she has no connection with Russia and does not participate in the companies founded by her husband.

The couple’s Canadian lawyers, Scott Hutchison and Eleni Loutas of Henein Hutchison Robitaille LLP in Toronto, declined to comment on the case.

Andrey Melnichenko’s public relations director, Alexander Byrikhin, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

In an email, Global Affairs Canada said it “cannot share information about individuals or entities listed under the Special Economic Measures (Russia) or comment on individual cases.”

“In response to Russia’s illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, Canada has imposed severe sanctions against the Russian regime and those who support it,” the statement said.

Aleksandra Melnichenko claims in her application that she is a European citizen “without any connection to Russia”. She denies any involvement in two companies founded by her husband, the fertilizer company EuroChem, and SUEK, a coal company, which are both owned by a trust administered in the European Union (EU).

“She is only a beneficiary of the discretionary trust operated by the Independent Trustee,” the document states.

In June 2022, EuroChem issued an “ownership and control statement” following reports that Andrey Melnichenko had handed over ownership of the company to his wife just before being sanctioned by the EU.

“EuroChem Group AG is unsanctioned, has never been sanctioned, and is free to pursue its important mission of providing high-quality crop nutrients to global markets,” a company statement read.

“EuroChem is majority owned and controlled by European trustees of a trust, the beneficiary of which, Aleksandra Melnichenko, has no controlling interest or influence over EuroChem. Therefore, EuroChem is not controlled by any sanctioned person,” the company adds.

Aleksandra Melnichenko argues that her “erroneous” listing on sanctions lists in the EU, Switzerland and Canada has caused “difficulties for business operations worldwide, increasing the ongoing food and energy crisis”.

Andrey Melnichenko for his part claims that he was falsely portrayed as an “oligarch” in corporate control, causing production disruptions at facilities in Europe after being sanctioned by the EU.

His court request warns of similar “unintended consequences” in Canada, where the Russian sanctions list now includes more than 1,300 people.

He claims he is not an oligarch, but a businessman who started from nothing, according to a Forbes report referring to his fortune.

Melnichenko ranks 58th on Forbes’ list of billionaires with a net worth of over $25 billion, which he amassed in the early 1990s with a chain of currency exchange counters, before founding MDM Bank, then EuroChem and SUEK.