By David Gauthier-Villars
(Reuters) - A European Union decision to extend sanctions against Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko to his wife is "irrational" because she has never held Russian citizenship or resided in Russia, a representative for the couple said on Saturday.
Aleksandra Melnichenko, who was born in Belgrade and holds Serbian and Croatian citizenship, will "vigorously contest the unfortunate decision against her", the representative said in an email statement to Reuters, declining to give a name.
Reuters reported last month that Melnichenko ceded ownership of coal company SUEK AO and fertilizer company EuroChem Group AG to his wife on March 8, a day before the EU put him on a sanctions list.
The EU sanctioned Melnichenko's wife on Friday as part of a sixth round of sanctions against Russia for waging a war against Ukraine. The EU said Aleksandra Melnichenko "takes good advantage of the fortune and benefits from the wealth of her husband".
The step could disrupt operations at SUEK and EuroChem because the sanctions include freezing her assets.
A EuroChem spokesperson said that while the company was committed to complying strictly with EU sanctions law, it would also seek to discuss with EU authorities how it could continue supplying fertilisers to farmers.
"EuroChem will engage with the European Commission and table proposals to find solutions that will maintain its operations and provide crop nutrients to its customers around the world at a most critical time of food crisis," the spokesperson said in a statement.
EuroChem produces roughly 5% of world fertiliser output.
A SUEK spokesperson did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Upon sanctioning Melnichenko in March, the EU accused him of being close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Melnichenko family representative said in Saturday's statement that the businessman has no political affiliations in Russia, calling the decision to sanction him "reckless" and "arbitrary".
Melnichenko has challenged the sanctions by lodging an appeal with the EU's General Court, which handles complaints against European institutions.
(Reporting by David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul; Editing by Helen Popper)