Russian shareholders up BP court claim to $5 bn
A small team of minority shareholders in BP's Russian joint venture on Wednesday raised their damages claim against the British giant to $5 billion, on the first day of a controversial court case.
The judge at the Tyumen district court in Siberia accepted the petition and adjourned the next hearing on request from BP until October 13, Russian news agencies reported.
The TNK-BP Holding shareholders' suit is being heard in the wake of this year's failed bid by BP to strike an unprecedented share swap and joint Arctic oil exploration agreement with the Russian state-held company Rosneft.
The deal fell apart after the Russian half of TNK-BP argued that it had first rights to the Rosneft tie-up and then refused the terms of a buyout offer from BP.
The group of shareholders, who are believed to have a tiny stake in the holding, initially claimed 87.1 billion rubles (some $3 billion) in damages from TNK-BP's unrealised share swap with Rosneft.
But their lawyer Dmitry Chepurenko said that claim is now being valued at 154.3 billion rubles ($4.9 billion), based on recent changes in Rosneft's share price.
The suit has raised pressure on BP's chief executive Bob Dudley over his decision to pursue the Rosneft deal, despite the damage it might cause to the British firm's most profitable foreign ventures.
TNK-BP provides BP with about a quarter of its annual production and 10 percent of its profits. The company last week also aired plans to invest $49 billion over 10 years in foreign field development.
Wednesday's hearing was preceded by a series of raids on BP offices in Moscow by bailiffs acting on request of the presiding judge.
BP's protest were picked up in Moscow last week by visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron during his talks with both his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.
The Siberian court has since suspended the searches and is yet to issue a ruling on whether the documents seized already can be submitted at the trial.
Rosneft last month replaced BP in its Arctic project with the US supermajor ExxonMobil.
© 2011 AFP