EU court orders sanctions against university lifted

The European Court of Justice has ruled that sanctions against Iran's Sharif University of Technology should be lifted because of lack of evidence from the European Union that the university is involved in Iran's nuclear energy programme, which Western countries claim is aimed at producing weapons of mass destruction.

In a ruling handed down on 3 July after Tehran-based Sharif University brought the case, the Luxembourg-based court annulled a decision taken by the European Council in late December 2012, to add the university, to its list of organisations subject to sanctions.

The sanctions included a freeze on the Tehran-based university’s assets and had a serious effect on its ability to receive research and other funding from EU countries. The university is one of Iran’s most prestigious science institutions and has always insisted it was a ‘civilian’ institution with nothing to do with Iran’s military plans.

The court ruled that the European Council committed a “manifest error of assessment” and had failed to provide adequate proof that the university was linked to Iran’s nuclear programme.

It said documents sent by the European Council contained “no information or material” to back up its case.

However, the court gave the European Council two more months to provide sufficient evidence to support its claims, before it would give the order to unfreeze the university’s assets.

The court said that the EU was “bound to communicate the grounds” of sanctions when it adopts restrictive measures “at the very least, as swiftly as possible after they have been adopted”.

But it noted that the reasons that had been provided for imposing sanctions were brief, vague and imprecise, and unable to justify the institution being listed under the EU’s sanctions rules.

The European Council had claimed that the university’s provision of laboratories to the Kalaye Electric Company and Iran Centrifuge Technology Company had contributed to nuclear proliferation activities.

Both companies are said to be “directly and closely” linked to Iran’s nuclear programme.

However, the European Council declined to disclose detailed evidence because of “overriding considerations of confidentiality and security to do with the security of the European Union and its member states and the conduct of their international relations”.

But the court noted that the link between the university and the companies had not been proven. The university maintained academic contacts with “a large number of private and public bodies”, the court observed.