London Court Rules In Abramovich's Favor

Billionaire Roman Abramovich won two London court rulings Wednesday in an ownership dispute with oil producer Yugraneft over a joint venture to develop Siberian oil fields.

Yugraneft, a unit of Sibir Energy, sued Abramovich in London's High Court, claiming that he acted fraudulently by reducing its interest in the joint venture Sibneft-Yugra to less than 1 percent from 50 percent. Yugraneft, in liquidation in Russia and provisional liquidation in Britain, claimed "billions of dollars" in losses.

Justice Christopher Clarke in London granted Abramovich's request to set aside the ownership dispute and said Yugraneft failed to prove grounds for serving Abramovich with court documents outside Russia.

"England would not be the appropriate forum for the determination of the dispute, firstly because there is no tenable claim against Mr. Abramovich, and secondly because, if there was, the appropriate forum is Russia," Clarke ruled.

In a second decision, Clarke granted Abramovich's request to set aside the appointment of a Yugraneft liquidator in Britain. Yugraneft was in liquidation in Russia when the British lawsuit was filed in November 2007, documents show.

Sibir formerly held licenses through Yugraneft to develop the South Priobskoye and Palyanovskoye oil fields in Siberia, according to court documents.

Clarke adjourned Wednesday's hearings to allow both sides to consider appeals. Paul Friedman, a lawyer for Yugraneft, and John Mann, a spokesman for Abramovich, declined to comment.

In July, Clarke had permitted a suit by Michael Cherney, a figure in 1990s privatizations of the Russian aluminum industry, against United Company RusAl owner Oleg Deripaska to proceed in London because he made a "good arguable case" of the risks of holding the proceedings in Russia, such as "assassination, arrest on trumped-up charges, and lack of a fair trial."

(Bloomberg, MT)