US group sues over Yukos share losses

A GROUP of US shareholders in the besieged Russian oil company Yukos has launched a civil lawsuit against the Russian Federation and state-owned companies in a bid to recoup millions in lost share value.

Washington DC firm Covington & Burling, led by international litigation partner Thomas Johnson, is representing at least 12 holders of American Depository Receipts (ADRs). ADR holders make up 15 per cent of Yukos’s shareholding, with a total value before the arrest of Yukos chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky of $6bn (£3.4bn), although Johnson does not expect to turn this suit into a class action.

The suit alleges that the Russian government’s 2004 tax assessment on Yukos of $27.5bn (£15.5bn) was unlawful, the government has renationalised Yukos without compensating shareholders and Russian officials were involved in insider trading.

“This suit is about taking the company away from its owners without paying for it and committing securities fraud,” Johnson said. “Assuming we win any part of this case … I imagine the defendants will be thinking about a settlement, about how to make this go away.”

The suit lists as defendants the Russian government, Gazprom and its chairman Dmitry Medvedev, Rosneft and its chairman Igor Sechin, as well as Russia’s finance minister Alexei Kudrin and energy minister Viktor Khristenko.

So far, Khristenko and Kudrin are the only two defendants to have been served papers, and both have instructed Baker Botts in their defence.

Group Menatep, Yukos’s majority shareholder, is paying Covington’s fees for the suit, the latest in a long line of litigation surrounding the Russian government’s wrangle with Yukos.