Activist Shareholder's Claims Thrown Out

A Moscow court on Wednesday rejected a demand by a minority shareholder that state oil giant Rosneft shed more light on its deals with oil trader Gunvor.

In a separate case, the court turned down a demand by the same shareholder that pipeline monopoly Transneft disclose the recipients of 7 billion rubles ($297 million) in donations last year.

The shareholder, Alexei Navalny, sought the information after he complained that the companies paid low dividends for last year.

"All these companies earn colossal revenues," Navalny said by telephone after the rulings. "We need information about what they do with the money."

He said he would appeal the rulings by the Moscow Arbitration Court.

The lawsuits seek to make it possible for minority shareholders to influence their companies' policies, said Alexander Glushenkov, a lawyer representing Navalny.

In Wednesday's rulings, the court cited a law about joint stock companies that says only shareholders who control more than 25 percent of a company can gain access to its financial records, Glushenkov said.

Navalny said he owned stakes worth 50,000 to 100,000 rubles each in Rosneft and Transneft.

Navalny has said he began seeking details on Rosneft's deals with Gunvor after U.S. Forbes magazine included Gennady Timchenko, a Gunvor founder and acquaintance of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on its billionaire list for the first time this year. Forbes put Timchenko's personal fortune at $2.5 billion.

Rosneft is one of Gunvor's top three Russian clients. The others are Gazprom Neft and TNK-BP, but TNK-BP sells all its crude at open tenders. It was unclear Wednesday whether Navalny planned to sue Gazprom Neft.

Rosneft and Gunvor spokespeople had no immediate comment Wednesday.

Transneft spent more money on charity than on the maintenance of its pipelines last year, Navalny said.

Transneft spokesman Mikhail Barkov was in a meeting and unavailable for immediate comment.

Greater transparency at Russian oil companies would reassure investors that they were being treated fairly at a time when the companies have had to increase production spending, said Vitaly Gromadin, an analyst at Arbat Capital. The companies have cited heavy taxes, depleting fields and soaring costs as primary reasons for low dividends.

Transneft's spending on charity puzzled the market because it faces five years of negative cash flow, a result of pouring money into a pipeline to connect eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, Gromadin said.

Being tight-lipped can harm companies' valuations. Surgutneftegaz has as much as $20 billion in its accounts, but its capitalization is as low as $28 billion, Gromadin said.

Navalny is a former deputy head of the Moscow branch of Yabloko, the liberal political party, but he was ousted in December after the party accused him of turning nationalist by co-founding a group called the National Russian Liberation Movement.