The majority shareholders who once controlled Yukos Oil Co. and their lawyers at Shearman & Sterling are poised to announce Monday whether the Russian Federation must pay billions for seizing the oil giant more than a decade ago.
GML Ltd., the shareholders’ holding company, said Wednesday that it will hold a July 28 press conference in London to unveil the long-awaited decision from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. GML and its lawyers have pegged damages at $114 billion, making the case the largest in investor-state arbitration history.
“After 10 years of intense battle we are happy to confirm that on Monday the world will at last hear the judgment of the most eminent possible tribunal on the disgraceful treatment of Yukos by the Russian Federation,” Shearman & Sterling’s Emmanuel Gaillard told The American Lawyer.
Yukos began as a state-owned company but was privatized during the 1990s through a series of auctions. At its peak, it was Russia’s most profitable company and pumped 2 percent of the world’s oil. Russian business tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky served as chief executive and was the largest shareholder in GML (formerly Group Menatep) before he transferred his stake to another onetime Yukos executive, Leonid Nevzlin.
Under Putin’s leadership, the Russian government imposed a series of tax levies on Yukos beginning in April 2004. Over the following three and half years it declared Yukos bankrupt and auctioned off its assets, most of which ended up in the control of state-run OAO Rosneft. In 2005 Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to prison amid a wider purge targeting members of Russia’s business elite.
The Russian government has argued that its actions were necessary to root out alleged corruption and tax fraud, but former Yukos shareholders say the company’s expropriation and Khodorkovsky’s prosecution were politically motivated. Khodorkovsky was released from prison last year.
GML commenced the arbitration in 2005, availing itself of a provision in the Energy Charter Treaty that allows investors to arbitrate expropriation claims against signatory governments like Russia. Tim Osborne, a British tax lawyer serving as director of GML, promised a “lifetime of litigation,” as The American Lawyer’s Michael D. Goldhaber has reported here and here.
Paris-based Shearman & Sterling partners Gaillard and Yas Banifatemi will join Osborne at Monday’s press conference to announce the award, according to GML. Russia is represented by Claudia Annacker and Lawrence Friedman of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Jay Alexander and Michael Goldberg of Baker Botts, among others.
If GML gets even a fraction of the billions it’s seeking, the award could easily shatter current records. The largest international arbitration award to date was won by Dow Chemical Co. in 2012, when arbitrators affiliated with the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that Kuwait’s Petrochemical Industries Co. must pay the company $2.473 billion (including interest). Shearman & Sterling also represented Dow in that case.
Former Yukos executive Nevzlin, who fled to Israel in 2003 to avoid prosecution, holds a roughly 67 percent stake in the award.
Lawyers for Russia didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.