TNK to File New Suit Over Rusia Sale

A bitter dispute over the sale of a stake in Rusia Petroleum took a twist Monday when Tyumen Oil Co. announced it would file a fresh suit contesting the tender results.

Irkutskenergo sold sprawling industrial holding Interros a 13 percent stake in Rusia Petroleum, which holds a license to develop one of the country's richest gas fields, Kovykta. The field's confirmed gas reserves are more than 1.4 trillion cubic meters, according to Kommersant newspaper.

But Tyumen Oil, or TNK, cried foul immediately after Interros was declared the winner in October. TNK said Monday that it had bid $6 million, or 15 percent, more than Interros.

"The deal with Interros includes the most flagrant violations of the law," TNK deputy chairman Viktor Vekselberg said in a statement released Monday. "The decision made by Irkutsenergo's management was not objective."

Interros, whose holdings include Rosbank, metals giant Norilsk Nickel and the Sidanko oil company, said Monday that sale was conducted on the up and up and had not violated any laws.

"We maintain the deal is absolutely lawful and has not broken any rules," said Interros spokesman Valentin Shapka. "We are fully prepared to defend our position in court."

Irkutskenergo officials were unavailable for comment Monday.

TNK, the nation's No. 4 oil company and a part of the Alfa Group holding, said it will ask the court to enforce previous rulings by Moscow and Irkutsk judges that overturned the sale and ordered a new tender.

TNK contends that despite those rulings, Interros has completed its acquisition of the 13 percent stake.

TNK and Interros have battled for oil assets since at least early 1999, when the companies wrestled over oil producer Chernogorneft. The producer, the star jewel in Sidanko's crown, was bankrupted in court and auctioned off to TNK. Sidanko shareholders raised a howl, and TNK later pledged to return the unit in exchange for a 25 percent stake in Sidanko, which is 44 percent owned by Interros. That deal still has not been carried out.

Steven Allen, an oil and gas analyst at Renaissance Capital, said the feud over Rusia Petroleum could be a bid by Interros to level the playing field in its tug-of-war for Chernogorneft.

"Interros was interested in Rusia's stake because it would give it some bargaining power in the Sidanko situation," Allen said. "Every extra day [TNK] holds on to Chernogorneft it gets some revenue, so Interros is eager to make TNK come back to the bargaining table."

With the 13 percent stake deal, Interros has a 19.4 percent stake in Rusia. With its subsidiaries, it controls a blocking stake.