TNK-BP Wins Court Decision

A Moscow arbitration court on Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling to refund TNK-BP 9.7 billion rubles ($408 million) it paid as value-added tax in 2006, the company said Tuesday.

The victory comes as the country's third-largest oil producer, half owned by BP, is facing increased pressure from state authorities, who analysts say are trying to help a state-controlled firm buy a major stake in it.

Under Russian law, export operations are exempt from the 18 percent VAT and the Federal Tax Service must refund the tax after companies submit relevant documents. In practice, companies often have to go to courts to get the funds back.

TNK-BP praised the ruling.

"The VAT refund has become more accurate since last year. Refund refusals for large oil companies have become insignificant," the spokesman said.

In April, the tax service hit TNK-BP with a 6 billion rubles back tax claim for 2004 and 2005. The firm paid $1.4 billion in back taxes for 2002 and 2003 in 2006. Those claims were not related to VAT.

In March, TNK-BP's offices were raided by the Federal Security Service, and an employee was arrested on charges of industrial espionage.

Analysts have said the state is putting pressure on TNK-BP's Russian shareholders to sell out to a large state company, such as Gazprom or Rosneft, though the Russian owners have repeatedly denied that they are planning to sell their stakes.