Scores of customers with “Slavic-sounding” names have sued over “Kafkaesque” mistreatment
A total of 76 French residents with Russian or “Slavic-sounding” names have filed a complaint against a number of banks in France, alleging discrimination on account of national origin after getting caught up in the enforcement of anti-Russian sanctions.
Individuals with no ties to the Russian government found their bank accounts blocked and even long-time residents were caught in a net one attorney described as “Kafkaesque,” the newspaper Le Figaro reported.
Under the EU embargo rules enacted since the conflict in Ukraine escalated in February, banks were prohibited from accepting deposits of over 100,000 euros from Russian nationals. The intent was to crack down on “oligarchs” and tycoons allegedly close to the government in Moscow. Yet in their zeal to enforce the sanctions, the banks have frozen accounts of ordinary French residents over far smaller amounts, say the attorneys with Cartier-Meyniel-Schneller, the law firm representing the plaintiffs. Other discriminatory actions involved declining loan applications and refusing to open or close bank accounts.
“We are not talking about the owners of yachts or villas on the Cote d’Azur,” Marie-Laure Cartier told Le Figaro, showing the complaint that listed students, doctors, and shopkeepers caught under the enforcement hammer.
One plaintiff, a self-employed 26-year-old named Maria, found herself with just 30 euros in her pocket, forced to beg around to meet expenses such as food or rent. Another, identified only as Natalia, was told by her bank that her account was blocked “due to your nationality in the current context,” said attorney Alexandre Meyniel, who added that the banks have done “nothing” to help their customers despite receiving official complaints.
The lawyers say all the plaintiffs have one thing in common: Russian-sounding names. Among them are French citizens such as Evgueni Galperine, a renowned film music composer.
“I was born in the Urals but I am a French citizen, having received political asylum at age 15,” Galperine told Le Figaro. “I have been with the same bank for 31 years and I’ve never had a problem.” He and his brother Sacha have lived in Paris since 1990. In July, however, the bank told him his accounts would be closed in September.
“This is because I was born in Russia. I’m shocked. I realized that I am basically a ‘discount’ Frenchman,” Galperine said. Such discrimination plays into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, as proof that Europe hates the Russians.
The discrimination lawsuit was filed before a Paris court on Monday, the attorneys said. The initial filing did not specify the extent of monetary damages involved, but “all these plaintiffs will claim financial compensation from the banks” if the complaint succeeds, Cartier told the French newspaper.