Russia to appeal against $50bn Yukos shareholder payout

image sourceGetty Images
image captionThe payout is a big hit for a country on the brink of recession

Russia will appeal against a international court ruling that it should pay $50bn (£29.5bn) in damages, the biggest compensation package ever.

Russia was told to pay the money to former shareholders in the now defunct oil producer Yukos.

The Hague court said Russian officials had manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos, and jail its boss.

The Russian finance ministry said the ruling was "flawed", "one-sided" and "politically biased".

The ministry added that the Permanent Court for Arbitration in The Hague "had no jurisdiction to consider the questions it was given".

'Major step'

The claim was filed by a subsidiary for the financial holding company GML, once the biggest shareholder in Yukos Oil Co.

GML Executive Director Tim Osborne said: "The majority shareholders of Yukos Oil were left without compensation for the loss of their investment when Russia illegally expropriated Yukos."

"It is a major step forward for the majority shareholders, who have been battling for over 10 years for this decision."

In an interview with the BBC's World Business Report, Mr Osborne added that his next step would be to use local courts worldwide to pursue Russian state property which could be seized as recompense.

Commenting on the tribunal's findings, he told the BBC: "In their view Rosneft, for instance, is an instrumentality of the state and was the vehicle that the Russian state chose to bankrupt and expropriate Yukos."

Pursuing Rosneft for the funds is a "distinct possibility", he said.

However, in a statement, the Russian ministry said: "Because of substantial shortcomings in the rulings of the arbitration court, the Russian Federation will challenge the rulings of the arbitration court in Dutch courts and expects to obtain a fair result there".

'Win time'

GML's lawyer Emmanuel Gaillard said: "This is an historic award. It is now judicially established that the Russian Federation's actions were not a legitimate exercise in tax collection but, rather, were aimed at destroying Yukos and illegally expropriating its assets for the benefit of State instrumentalities Rosneft and Gazprom."

Dr Florian Otto from risk advisory company Maplecroft said that Russia will be hoping to win time and reduce publicity.

He said: "For Russia, paying the money is out of the question, as this could be construed as an acknowledgement that the seizing of Yukos' assets was illegal - a viewpoint the Kremlin will never accept.

"The ruling does not come as a surprise to any of the parties involved, but the coincidental timing with the downing of flight MH17 certainly adds to the pressure Russia is currently exposed to.

"The case serves as a fresh reminder of state interference in business at a time when business confidence is already at a low point".

Lawyers said that if Russia does not voluntarily accept the ruling, it can be forcibly enforced by shareholders seizing assets abroad.

Konstantin Lukoyanov of global law firm Linklaters said: "If it is accepted, it can be carried out voluntarily, or it will be implemented forcibly.

"In that case the seizure of assets abroad is possible. There have been several similar cases."

Leonid Nevzlin, former deputy chairman of Yukos told a Moscow radio station: "I think shareholders are ready for the next stage, if Russia refuses to pay them, to search for and seize Russian assets all around the world."

image sourceGetty Images
image captionMikhail Khodorkovsky is the former head of Yukos

Illegal deals

Yukos was disbanded in 2007 after filing for bankruptcy in 2006.

The company was formerly controlled by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was at one point Russia's richest man. Responding to the news, Mr Khordorkovsky said it was "fantastic" that shareholders were "being given chance to recover assets".

Mr Khodorkovsky built Yukos into Russia's largest investor-owned oil company after the fall of the Soviet Union.

He was arrested in 2003 and spent ten years in jail after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion but was pardoned last December.

The state-owned Rosneft bought the bulk of Yukos assets though auctions after the company, once the country's largest oil producer, was declared bankrupt. Rosneft says all the deals were legal.

Analysis: Andrew Walker, BBC economics correspondent

The judgement is powerful ammunition for President Putin's critics.

For their case, the key words in the ruling are these: "Russian courts bent to the will of Russian executive authorities to bankrupt Yukos, assign its assets to a State-controlled company, and incarcerate a man who gave signs of becoming a political competitor".

That potential political rival - to President Putin - is Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Though he wasn't involved this case, he was at the centre of the events that led to the downfall of Yukos.

The ruling is littered with testimony from witnesses pointing to Mr Putin's anger about Mr Khodorkovsky, particularly when the former Yukos chief raised the issue of corruption.

The court concluded that what happened to him and the company were not the result of proper legal processes.

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