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Belgian court orders to release Russia’s assets seized under Yukos claim

Yukos will hardly appeal against the Belgian court’s ruling, the lawyer of the Russian Federation Niuscha Bassiri said

BRUSSELS, June 9. /TASS/. The court in Brussels has ruled to unlock within 14 days the assets and accounts of Russian companies seized under the Yukos case, partner of a law firm representing Russia’s interests against former Yukos shareholders Niuscha Bassiri said on Friday.

"Yesterday, on June 8, the judge in charge of asset seizures of the Brussels court of first instance passed two rulings relative to the arrests imposed in Belgium at the request of Yukos Universal Limited (YUL) on the property and the bank accounts belonging to the Russian Federation, TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies," she said.

"The rulings say that as the District Court in The Hague annulled in 2016 the verdict laying the basis for these rulings, the arrest must be lifted within 14 days from the moment of informing about the judgement," she said, noting that "the judgement has not yet been formally announced but this will happen either today or on Monday."

"This is a matter of several days," she added.

"We, the lawyers of the Russian Federation, were in the court’s building and saw the content of this judgment but we were not allowed to make a copy. We got acquainted with the substance of the judgment," she said.

According to Basseri, Yukos will hardly appeal against the Belgian court’s ruling.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague passed a ruling in July 2014, obliging Russia to pay $50 billion compensation to former Yukos shareholders.

In its final awards, the arbitration tribunal unanimously ruled that Russia "had taken measures with the effect equivalent to an expropriation of claimants’ investments in Yukos" and thus had breached article 45 of the Energy Charter Treaty, which Russia signed but never ratified.

After the verdict was announced, the Russian Finance Ministry said The Hague arbitration tribunal had no jurisdiction to consider the Yukos case and the dispute review was one-sided.

Russia subsequently appealed against The Hague Tribunal’s ruling.

Former Yukos shareholders tried to use Russian assets abroad to enforce the arbitration award.

Media outlets had been numerously reporting since June 2015 that Yukos shareholders were seeking the seizure of the accounts of Russia and Russian companies in various European countries.

Russia said on many occasions it categorically disagreed with the court ruling.

The district court of The Hague ruled in April last year that the panel of judges who had passed a $50 billion compensation judgment in favor of former Yukos shareholders had no right to review the dispute. As the Dutch district court ruled, the arbitration tribunal misinterpreted Europe’s Energy Charter Treaty, which Russia signed but never ratified.

The Hague district court also ruled that each of the three companies representing Yukos’ interests must pay Russia 16,000 euros in compensation of judicial expenses.

Yukos case

Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil firm, was accused of tax crimes and declared a bankrupt by a Russian court ruling in 2006 while its assets were sold at auctions during the liquidation procedure.

In 2007, former Yukos shareholders filed a lawsuit with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague claiming that the Russian government had expropriated Yukos’s assets and demanding compensation for losses under article 45 of Europe’s Energy Charter Treaty.

The ex-Yukos shareholders initially claimed $28.3 billion in compensation from Russia but the sum was subsequently increased to $103 billion.

Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said on December 4, 2014 that in November Russia had challenged The Hague Tribunal’s $50 billion ruling (the examination of Russia’s appeal began on January 28, 2015).

Yukos former head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev were found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion in May 2005 and sentenced to nine years in prison.

While serving their prison term, both Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering in a second criminal case in December 2010 and sentenced to 14 years in prison, with account taken of the jail term they had served.

Khodorkovsky was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and left the prison in December 2013. Lebedev was released from the jail in early 2014.