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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Orders TNK Guards Off Oil Field

A Khanty-Mansiisk court on Wednesday ordered guards hired by Tyumen Oil Co. to leave the premises of a Siberian oil complex claimed by a Canadian producer.

A standoff, however, was set to occur Thursday, when the court bailiff is scheduled to present the document to the new management of Yugraneft Corp. TNK installed Alexander Berman as Yugraneft general director at an extraordinary shareholders meeting called by TNK-controlled Chernogorneft last week.

"I haven't seen any papers yet," Berman said from Nizhnevartovsk in western Siberia. "When the bailiff comes, then I'll decide what to do."

This court order is the latest strike in the war for possession between TNK and Norex, an oil services company that was given millions of dollars of Canadian government guarantees to invest in Yugraneft, which now produces about 350,000 tons a year. Under the terms of the 1992 joint venture, Norex owned 60 percent and Chernogorneft held 40 percent.

TNK insists it still owns 40 percent, though Norex says it owns 2.36 percent.

The court order — a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times — nullifies an agreement Berman signed with the Rus security company last Friday, the day after his appointment at the shareholders meeting. On his first day of work, Berman arrived with a group of armed guards.

The judge's decision also shows that the Khanty-Mansiisk arbitration court continues to recognize the authority of ousted general director Lyudmilla Kondrashinaya because she submitted the suit Monday, said Nikolai Gulidov, head of Yugraneft's Moscow office.

Khanty-Mansiisk Governor Alexander Filipenko held council on the dispute Tuesday.

Filipenko called both Kondrashinaya and TNK CEO Simon Kukes to his office to discuss the conflict, sources close to the governor said. Kukes came in with a packet of court orders.

Before Kukes could finish explaining his company's actions, Filipenko interrupted him.

"I just want you to explain one thing to me," he said. "The first thing Berman did as general director of Yugraneft was sign a contract to sell oil to TNK at a third of the normal price. Why?"

According the source, Kukes was at a loss to explain.

Even though it is difficult to pull apart the intertwined loyalties in the Tyumen region, one thing is clear, Gulidov said. Yugraneft is the biggest taxpayer in its district, and the governor knows that. A threat to Yugraneft's profits is a threat to the local budget.

When filing the suit, Kondrashinaya and Yugraneft lawyers claimed Berman did not have the authority of general director when he signed the contract for security because he did not possess the company stamp and documents.

TNK officials in Moscow said they had no information about the suit.

"This is very doubtful," said TNK spokesman Dmitry Ivanov. "If it is true, then it seems strange that they won over such trivial details as a stamp."

Last week, TNK asked an arbitration court to freeze Norex's shares in Yugraneft, basing its petition on the claim Norex did not really contribute $5.8 million in charter capital that it said it did.

Once those shares were frozen and voting prohibited, TNK called the shareholders meeting and put Berman in the director's chair.

It is unclear who is running the operation and just as unclear who is right and who is wrong. Even the Khanty-Mansiisk court can't decide, at first freezing Norex's shares and giving TNK its window of opportunity, but then refusing the authority of TNK's general director.

Gulidov said the atmosphere around the Yugraneft complex is tense.

"Oil is still being pumped." he said. "But I wouldn't say that it's being done under normal working conditions.

The fight for Yugraneft has reached the upper echelons of the diplomatic world. After TNK deployed its armed guards, the Canadian Embassy released a statement saying the conflict "looks like the use of force and the potential for violence" and is "a major negative signal to Canadian and foreign investors."