Finland seizes hundreds of Russian freight cars as EU sanctions bite

* This content was produced in Russia, where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

MOSCOW, July 5 (Reuters) - Finland has seized nearly a thousand freight cars belonging to Russian companies as a result of European Union sanctions, according to Finnish state-owned rail operator VR and a letter from Russia's rail monopoly seen by Reuters.

As Finland's VR moved to reduce railway traffic with Russia after the EU sanctioned Russian coal supplies in April, 865 rail cars from Russia were seized by bailiffs, according to the June 6 dated letter from Russian Railways to the Ministry of Transport.

Finnish bailiff authority told Reuters it has had frozen assets of a few dozen of Russian and Belarusian individuals and legal entities, including transportation firms, worth at least 82 million euros, to comply with EU sanctions.

VR's spokeswoman Taina Kuitunen confirmed by email that there were "around 800 units of sanctioned (freight) cars in Finland at the moment" and the company sought to return the non-seized ones to Russia as soon as possible.

VR's head of logistics told Finnish media in March that around 5,000 Russian rail cars were in Finland when it decided to suspend traffic, and while his company wanted to send them back, bailiffs ordered some to be seized.

The seized rail cars belong to companies either directly hit by EU sanctions or whose shareholders gave up their control because they got hit by sanctions after Russia sent its troops into Ukraine in late February.

Uralchem-Trans, whose former owner, Dmitry Mazepin, ceded control after coming under EU sanctions in March, did not reply to request for a comment, and the state leasing company GTLK, under EU sanctions itself, declined comment.

Rusagrotrans, part of Demetra Holding where sanctions-hit state bank VTB VTBR.MM ceded control to other investors in February, also declined comment.

The fourth company whose cars were seized, Alpha Leasing, has lodged an appeal to a Finnish court against an "unlawful" move by Finnish bailiffs, said Andrey Barkov, head of corporate business. Alpha Leasing is a unit of sanctions-hit Alfa Bank.

Russian Railways declined comment and the Ministry of Transport did not reply to a request for comment.
Reporting by Reuters and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki Editing by Tomasz Janowski

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