• Andrey Melnichenko said he only found out the EU had sanctioned him when he read it in the news.
  • The industrialist told Weltwoche that he was only sanctioned because he's Russian and rich.
  • He added he'd filed lawsuits against both the EU and Switzerland challenging the sanctions.

Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko said he only found out he'd been sanctioned by the European Union when he read it in the news.

He told Swiss publication Weltwoche that on March 4 he left Switzerland, where he has lived since 2009, to travel to Tanzania with his family to celebrate his 50th birthday, which was just three days later.

"There I discovered that the EU had put me on the sanctions list," he said. "A perfect present for my 50th birthday, and also so symbolic."

Melnichenko told the publication that he has since filed lawsuits against both EU and Swiss authorities over the sanctions, calling their official reasoning "nonsensical."

Melnichenko is the owner of fertilizer group EuroChem and coal company Suek, which he says employ 100,000 people combined, though he stepped down as a director of both companies on the day he was sanctioned. Bloomberg estimates his wealth at $14.6 billion — down by almost a third since he was sanctioned.

On February 24, Melnichenko was photographed alongside 36 other Russian businesspeople meeting with Putin President Vladimir Putin and other members of the Kremlin, which the EU said was arranged "to discuss the impact of the course of action in the wake of Western sanctions."

It said that his invite shows that he was "a member of the closest circle of Vladimir Putin" and  "one of the leading businesspersons involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of revenue to the Government of Russia."

In his interview with Weltwoche, Melnichenko said that the gathering with Putin was a "normal meeting."

"We were all shocked about the events in Russia," he said. He said that the oligarchs and business leaders had first heard about Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the news that morning, and that the meeting had taken place in the early afternoon.

"We were in an emotional state of emergency," he said, adding that people were in a state of disbelief.

Melnichenko told the publication that he didn't know Putin "at all" and had never me him alone. He said that he had only met him a few times in groups of at least 15 people, each time in his role as part of a Russian business and industrial group.

Melnichenko was in attendance at a meeting between Putin and Russian business leaders on the day of the invasion of Ukraine. Foto: Alexei NikolskyTASS via Getty Images

"Labeling me as a close political confidant of Putin, as an oligarch closely connected to the Russian state, is absurd," he said. "I'm not an oligarch."

Melnichenko said that he hadn't expected to be sanctioned as a businessman unconnected to the state. Though he was born in Belarus and lives in Switzerland, he has a Russian passport.

"My disadvantage is obvious: I'm a Russian," Melnichenko said. "Secondly: I'm rich. That's why I'm on the sanctions list."

The EU didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Melnichenko wife was also sanctioned by the EU, largely because of her connections to EuroChem. Melnichenko said that her sanctions made no sense and that she rarely visits Russia and had never met Putin.

He said that the sanctions meant his private and family bank accounts had been locked and he couldn't access his assets. Italy seized a $578 million megayacht belonging to him just three days after he was sanctioned.

The EU also sanctioned EuroChem, which Melnichenko said left the company "considerably restricted."

"Worst of all, though, my family life has completely fallen to pieces," he said. He said wasn't able to travel in the EU although his family lives in Europe.

"The children can't meet their friends, they miss their toys and ask questions that I can't answer," he said.

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