Russia wins battle in Swedish court within Yukos shareholders’ case

© Vladimir Vyatkin
Russia has defeated a ruling by a Stockholm arbitration tribunal that awarded compensation to four Spanish shareholders of defunct energy company Yukos. The case was part of a wider $100 billion legal battle against Russia.

In its 18 January ruling, quoted by RIA Novosti, the Swedish Court of Appeal overturned previous decisions by the Stockholm District High Court and a Stockholm arbitration court that “the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the claim.”

The long legal battle began in 2007 when four Spanish shareholders filed a lawsuit in the Stockholm arbitration tribunal, demanding that the Russian government compensate their “expropriated” shares in the dissolved energy giant, Yukos. In 2012, the tribunal ruled in favor of the plaintiff, shareholder group Quasar de Valores.

Russia had argued that the court had no authority to hear the claim under the 1990 bilateral investment treaty ratified by the USSR and Spain, which is still in force.

In 2014, the Stockholm District High Court upheld the decision by the arbitration tribunal and dismissed Russia’s jurisdictional challenge. But the recent ruling by the Swedish Court of Appeal overturns the decision of the arbitration tribunal as well as that of the Stockholm District High Court. The ruling states that the Spanish shareholders have until February 15 to file an appeal with the Swedish Supreme Court.

Russia was represented at the Swedish Court of Appeal, as it was in the previous 2014 case, by a team from leading US law firm Baker Botts. It was led by an international arbitration and dispute resolution expert, London-based lawyer Jay Alexander, according to Commercial Dispute Resolution (CDR) magazine.

Alexander told CDR that the court of appeal’s jurisdictional argument is likely to have an impact on the other Yukos-related cases.

“The only remaining Yukos-related arbitral awards were issued in an arbitration in The Hague [at the PCA] under the Energy Charter Treaty,” Alexander said. “Those related awards cited repeatedly the Quasar arbitration award that was issued without any legal basis.”

The four companies were supported by Group Menatep Limited (GML), the majority shareholder in Yukos, which is now leading the charge to enforce the $50 billion award made at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in 2014. Being the largest arbitral award in history, the decision claims Yukos “was the object of a series of politically motivated attacks by the Russian authorities.”

In June 2015, President Vladimir Putin said Russia does not recognize the ruling of the court in The Hague, as Moscow does not participate in the European Energy Charter. The decision of the Arbitration Court in The Hague can only be applied to signatories of the European Energy Charter, Putin said in a meeting with the heads of international news agencies at the 2015 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Yukos was dissolved in the mid-2000s after its CEO and majority owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, received a lengthy prison sentence in Russia for tax evasion and fraud, with all the company’s assets being auctioned off.