Russia cannot claim immunity in $60 billion Yukos fight, London court rules

LONDON (Reuters) -Russia cannot claim state immunity to avoid the enforcement of a $60 billion arbitration award over the expropriation of defunct oil group Yukos, London’s High Court ruled on Wednesday.

The decision removes one obstacle for three former Yukos shareholders, Hulley Enterprises, Yukos Universal and Veteran Petroleum, in their fight to enforce the 2014 award.

But their attempts have so far been unsuccessful and are likely to involve several more years of legal battles before any money might be paid.

The companies were awarded just over $50 billion by an arbitration tribunal in The Hague in 2014, which found Russia carried out a “devious and calculated expropriation” of Yukos after its former owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed.

They have since attempted to enforce the award – which has swelled to nearly $60 billion – in Britain, the U.S. and the Netherlands.

At a hearing in October, Russia argued it had not agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of the arbitration and said the issue had not been finally decided by the Dutch courts.

A pause on the case in London, imposed in 2016 while Russia challenged the award in the Netherlands, was lifted last year after a 2021 Dutch Supreme Court ruling.

Russia’s lawyers said, however, that the Dutch Supreme Court upheld one ground of Russia’s appeal and ruled its argument that shareholders provided false evidence was wrongly rejected, sending that issue back to a lower court.

But Judge Sara Cockerill ruled on Wednesday that the issue before the Dutch courts did not relate to jurisdiction and said Russia’s assertion of immunity should be rejected.

Cockerill refused to give Russia permission to appeal, though Russia can apply directly to the Court of Appeal.

Tim Osborne, CEO of the GML shareholder group which previously held a majority stake in Yukos through its subsidiaries, welcomed the ruling as “getting us closer to the moment when the Russian Federation will have to pay for its illegal actions”.

A lawyer representing Russia in the London case declined to comment on Wednesday’s ruling.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; editing by Sachin Ravikumar and Jonathan Oatis)