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Dutch probe firms accused of violating EU sanctions against Russia

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The Hague (AFP)

Dutch prosecutors announced Friday a probe into seven firms suspected of violating EU sanctions against Moscow by helping to build a bridge linking Russia to annexed Crimea.

Russia has been building a bridge spanning the Kerch Strait to Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, sparking international condemnation as well as EU and US sanctions.

"The customs authority is conducting a probe, under the direction of the prosecution, into the alleged involvement of seven Dutch firms in the construction of a bridge linking Russia to Crimea," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 following a popular revolt in Ukraine that sent former president Viktor Yanukovich fleeing.

Despite the international sanctions, Moscow has persisted in its bid to 19-kilometre (12-mile) bridge to the peninsula with which it does not have an overland connection, and the span is expected to open to traffic later this year.

The European Court of Justice, which says the Russian annexation of Crimea was illegal, has branded the bridge a violation of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty.

The Dutch prosecutor's office as such considers that helping the Russian authorities build the bridge would be illegal.

"Providing goods or services in violation of European sanctions violates international regulations," the statement said.

The seven Dutch firms currently under investigation are suspected of having provided machinery and parts as well as carrying out maintenance of machinery already in place, the prosecutor's office added.

The firms' top managers are also being probed in the investigation, which spans a two-year period starting from November 2015.

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