MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court threw out two multi-billion dollar lawsuits against BP on Friday, handing the British oil company a key victory in legal battles surrounding its Russian oil venture TNK-BP.
A judge in the Siberian oil town of Tyumen rejected suits brought by Andrey Prokhorov, a minority shareholder in Russia’s No.3 oil firm; one for $13 billion from BP and another for $2.8 billion from two BP nominees on the board of operating unit TNK-BP Holding (TBH).
Prokhorov had said TNK-BP suffered financial losses because it had been excluded from a planned strategic alliance unveiled in January between BP and Rosneft.
“None of the grounds for the lawsuits were proved in court,”
BP lawyer Konstantin Lukoyanov told Reuters.
A ruling on the $13 billion lawsuit against BP will be issued within days, Lukoyanov said. The court had already found against the $2.8 billion suit because Prokhorov did not muster the necessary 1 percent shareholding for the case to go ahead.
Prokhorov’s lawyers said they would appeal the ruling, saying they were given less than two hours to state their case on Friday.
“These court proceedings show that Russia still has a long way to go to meet international standards of corporate law,” said Dmitry Chepurenko of law firm Liniya Prava.
Legal wrangling continues surrounding TNK-BP, a 50-50 venture between BP and AAR, a consortium made up of a quartet of Soviet-born billionaires, after the local partners mounted successful legal action to block the BP-Rosneft transaction.
“The decision to reject lawsuit does not mean the end of the conflict between the Russian and the Western shareholders in the company. But it may help to create a short-term positive background (for TNK-BP shares),” BFA brokerage said in a note.
BP and Rosneft had agreed to team up to explore for oil in Russia’s Arctic offshore and swap shares, but AAR won a British court injunction against the deal that was upheld in arbitration proceedings.
The local shareholders in TNK-BP said the BP-Rosneft deal violated an exclusivity clause in TNK-BP’s shareholder agreement. Rosneft has since agreed to search the same blocks in the Kara Sea with U.S. group ExxonMobil.
Arbitration under British law continues, seeking to establish whether BP infringed the shareholder agreement with AAR, potentially making it liable to damages.
TNK-BP management has, meanwhile, written to the company’s board asking it to consider legal action against BP and its executives in Britain and the British Virgin Islands over the Rosneft deal.
A board meeting tentatively scheduled for this week was not held, however, after the company’s three independent directors sought outside legal advice on the dispute. The next board meeting is scheduled for December 9, shareholder sources said.
Reporting by Melissa Akin and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Douglas Busvine