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Dutch top court sides with Moscow against Yukos shareholders

November 5, 2021

A yearslong legal dispute between the Kremlin and shareholders of the now-bust Yukos Oil company remains unresolved. The Dutch supreme court has sent the case back to an arbitration court.

The Yukos Oil logo on a sign in Moscow
The downfall of Yukos paved the way for the state-owned Rosneft to become the giant that it is todayImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Marmur

The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday overturned a previous appeals court ruling that had ordered the Russian government to compensate the former shareholders of the now-defunct Yukos Oil company.

"Today the Supreme Court quashed the appeal court’s final judgment as well as the court’s preceding judgment," a statement said. "The case has been referred to the Amsterdam Court of Appeal for renewed judgment."

The shareholders have been claiming compensation worth $50 billion (€43 billion) since the company went bankrupt in 2006.

A yearslong legal battle saw a Dutch arbitration court rule alternatively in favor of the former shareholders and the Kremlin.

The collapse of Yukos Oil

The downfall of Yukos Oil, formerly the biggest oil company in Russia, began with the falling out of its former owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky with President Vladimir Putin in the early 2000s.

Khodorkovsky was one of the most successful oligarchs to get rich off the snatching up of assets following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin-critic was arrested in 2003 after Putin warned him and his peers to keep out of Russian politics.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Khodorkovsky is himself not a party in the compensation disputeImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Dunham

He was pardoned after serving 10 years in prison for tax evasion and fraud, but went into exile in London after prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him over the murder of a Siberian mayor in 1998.

Following Khodorkovsky's removal, Yukos was faced with huge tax demands leading to the company being sold-off piecemeal to other state-owned companies between 2004 and 2006.

Legal back-and-forth

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, based in The Hague, ruled in favor of the former majority shareholders, GML financial holding company, in a landmark case — $50 billion was the largest-ever sum awarded by the court — after nine years of deliberation.

The court overturned its own decision in 2016 because Moscow had not ratified the treaty on which the decision had been based.

The back-and-forth continued with the court returning to its original ruling in 2020, leading to Russia appealing to the Supreme court as a result.

ab/rt (Reuters, AP, AFP)