Russia Fun: Ruling on $100B Yukos Expropriation Claim

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 7/25/2014 01:30:00 AM
Those were the days--and some hope to bring them back.
Five years later, we are about to hear the decision on Russia's liabilities from expropriating Yukos. Readers will remember Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly a favored oligarch who then irked Vladimir Putin by entering politics. Shortly thereafter Khodorkovsky was thrown in jail, the firm he controlled was dismembered, and its assets were subsumed by the state-owned giant oil concern Rosneft. In post-USSR Russia, the unspoken arrangement among the beneficiaries of the fire-sale of state-owned commodities firms was that they could enjoy their, er, unusually acquired fortunes for as long as they did not criticize the men who made it possible. This guy had other bright ideas in biting the hand that fed.

While Khodorkovsky has become the poster boy for Putin's arbitrariness and venality, there were other shareholders adversely affected by the expropriation. The case they made to recoup lost investment--they claim over a whopping $100 billion--is about to be ruled on by the Permanent Court of Arbitration which handles these sorts of cases:
Russia will discover next week how much it may be asked to pay for the confiscation a decade ago of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos Oil Co., then the country’s biggest oil producer. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will rule on July 28 on a $103 billion damages claim the company’s former owners filed against Russia in 2007, Tim Osborne, head of GML Ltd., former holding company of Yukos, said by e-mail. Court official Willemijn van Banning said by phone she couldn’t comment on the date for the ruling.
As you know, Putin and Co. play hardball. They are not going to fork over whatever compensation is determined gladly. What most observers expect to occur is for Russia to balk at payment of an amount rather less than $100 billion. This intransigence will result in a fight to freeze Rosneft assets waged the world over to provide compensation:
GML has a good chance of winning partial damages, according to Gus Van Harten, a professor specializing in arbitration at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Canada. There’s “very limited room” for appeal and Russia will resist paying, so any amount awarded would trigger a global legal battle to seize state property, including assets of OAO Rosneft (ROSN), which acquired most of Yukos in a series of forced auctions, Van Harten said.
The largest shareholder that brought the case, former Yukos holding company GML, is composed largely of other Russians who benefited greatly from the fire-sale of Soviet era energy assets. Ironically, Russia is being taken to task by those who it enriched prior to the state reincorporating what it previously owned. Russian politics are weird. Given its rich human capital, you would have hoped that the country moved past extractive industries and diversified into others from those that make it reliant on commodity-based industries.

Rather, the back-and-forth between the state and those it (questionably) enriched goes on and on. The resource curse lives on in Russia, then, as the emphasis of its political economy centers on nasty quarrels over redistributing existing wealth as opposed to generating more wealth from other industries. The rents may have increased since the Soviet era, but the assets generating those rents--hydrocarbons--are continuously dwindling.

7/28 UPDATE: The ruling has now been issued amounting to a fairly stunning $50 billion. I am absolutely certain the Russians will not be handing this money over easily. Expect legal machinations aplenty--appeals, stays, and so forth. While those are going on, energy assets which can be frozen to help recoup this expropriation award like those of Rosneft worldwide will be contested tooth and nail. A great game of cat and mouse has just begun.