December 12, 2006
By Michele Sinner
LUXEMBOURG, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Europe’s second-highest court on Tuesday annulled an EU decision freezing the funds of an exiled Iranian opposition group that argues it was wrongly placed on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations.
The Court of First Instance ruling faulted the EU for not giving adequate reasons or a fair hearing. It is likely to infuriate Tehran and may have wider implications for EU policy of banning alleged terrorist groups and freezing their assets.
EU member states ordered the freezing of funds of the People’s Mujahideen (OMPI) in 2002. The armed wing of the France-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) stated that it has renounced military activity since 2001.
The NCRI called the court decision “a great victory”, but the head of the EU Council’s legal service, Jean-Claude Piris, said he did not know if the group would get its assets back.
The court ruling said: “The court finds that the decision ordering the freezing of the OMPI’s funds does not contain a sufficient statement of reason and that it was adopted in the course of a procedure during which the right of the party concerned to a fair hearing was not observed.”
“Accordingly that decision must be annulled in so far as it concerns the OMPI.”
The EU Council’s Secretariat, representing the 25 member states, said it would consider appealing on points of law to the higher European Court of Justice.
A Council statement played down the implications, saying the court had not annulled the regulation establishing the terrorism list, or other persons or entities named on it.
It also said the EU intended to implement procedures sought by the court to provide those targeted with a statement of reasons and a possibility to challenge the listing.
Piris said EU states would look at the case again and added: “When a decision in Council (is annulled) because you have not respected the procedures, it does not mean you have not the right to take the same decision based on the right procedures.”
“REMOVE TERROR TAG”
NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi called the ruling “proof of the resistance’s legitimacy over religious fascism in Iran”.
“All restrictions resulting from the terror tag should be removed from the Iranian resistance immediately, and unfair treatment that culminates from it should stop at once,” she said during a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Saad Djebbar, a British human rights lawyer who has appealed to the European courts to overturn a U.N.-mandated assets freeze on Saudi businessman Yassin Kadi, welcomed the ruling but said it should also cover EU action implementing U.N. asset freezes.
“The good news is that they accepted the principle that when there is a lack of due process, it contradicts the EU judicial and legal culture,” Djebbar told Reuters. “But this should be applied across the board.”
The NCRI said the Iranian government had used the EU decision to justify repression of OMPI sympathizers in Iran and to try to restrict its activities abroad.
The OMPI, labeled a terrorist group in the EU and the United States, has devoted followers on both continents and was the first body to expose Iran’s covert nuclear program.
But diplomats and Iran analysts say it has little support within Iran, where few can forgive it for siding with Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The NCRI complained that the group was added to the EU terrorist list under pressure from Tehran at a time when Western countries were trying to improve relations with Iran.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Paul Taylor in Brussels)