Shareholders of defunct oil giant Yukos, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have won a court case in the Hague demanding compensation from Russia. Moscow is in for hefty fines and asset seizures.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague handed down a verdict on Monday (28.07.2014) in a case brought by the Gibraltar-based Group Menatep (GML) against the Russian Federation.
The group was accusing Russia of expropriating the company and are demanding the maximum compensation for the dismantling of oil company Yukos.
There are also several other lawsuits demanding compensation in connection with the Yukos disappropriation, brought, among others, by US investors and being dealt with by several arbitration courts.
Putin warns oligarchs
Yukos was one of the biggest Russian oil companies. Founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and Yukos was declared bankrupt in 2006. Khodorkovsky went to jail after being convicted of tax fraud, and large parts of Yukos were absorbed by state-owned Rosneft, headed by ex-Putin advisor Igor Sechin.
But many consider Khodorkovsky's imprisonment politically-motivated, since he spoke out against the Russian president and openly challenged corruption in the highest echelons of power. His trial was also seen as a warning sign to other oligarchs not to meddle in politics.
At the end of last year, Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released from prison early, which came as a surprise to most. Khodorkovsky publicly declared he would not sue to get his assets back, but it is unclear if that declaration was a precondition for his release.
Other former Yukos managers, however, were sticking to their demands for compensation.
More than $100 billion
Tim Osborne is the director of GML, which was founded in the late 1990s and once owned 60 percent of Yukos. After Khodorkovsky's arrest, the oligarch sold his controlling stake in Menatep to his business partner Lenoid Nevzlin, who went to live in Israel.
Osborne told DW that the holding company filed the lawsuit against Russia at The Hague court in 2010. GML estimated their stolen assets to be around $130 billion (97 billion euros), which includes a pension fund.
Osborne does not expect to get all the money back. "103.5 billion is the maximum I think," he told DW, but in any case, the positive verdict will almost certainly mean a substantial sum will be granted to GML. Osborne says the company is prepared to accept payment in instalments, provided interest is paid.
Plaintiffs were confident
The former Yukos shareholders' case is based on the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) that Russia signed in 1994, but never ratified - indeed, it went on to withdraw from the treaty in 2009. But European investments in Russian energy projects that took place before Russia agreed to leave the treaty still fall under the treaty's provision of protecting investments.
Osborne was confident that GML woul win the lawsuit. "If I wasn't, I'd have had a nervous breakdown by now," he told DW. Osborne pointed to two verdicts by an international arbitration tribunal in Stockholm on a Spanish-Russian investment deal and a Swedish project in Russia. In both cases, the tribunal found Russia liable for expropriating the investments.
Russian assets under the hammer?
Even if Moscow does not recognize a verdict handed down by the arbitration court in The Hague, it could still be implemented, Osborne says.
"The New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards could be applied here," he says, emphasizing that Russia has signed the convention.
In order to compensate former Yukos shareholders, Russian assets abroad - with the exception of those held in embassies or consulates - may be seized and auctioned off, including those of state-owned companies like Gazprom, Aeroflot and Rosneft.