The respite from TNK-BP-Rosneft-related news was broken the other day, with news that the AAR consortium is restarting legal action. The Gang of Four is demanding $10 billion to compensate for business opportunities allegedly lost as a result of the abortive BP-Rosneft tie-up. The theory as to how these opportunities are lost and gone forever now that the deal is, well, aborted, is rather difficult to discern from news accounts.
Moreover, minority shareholders of TNK-BP Holdings are suing TNK-BP Holdings, TNK-BP Management and BP Exploration Operations Company, and two BP employees who serve on the Holdings board for preventing TNK-BP from participating in the BP-Rosneft tie up.
AAR denies being a party to the suit, but acknowledges that it had been informed about it, and that the issues raised in the lawsuit are the same as those in the Gang of Four’s actions in the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal.
Perhaps this is a coincidence, but the private lawsuit is being filed in the same court in Tyumen where a straw plaintiff (a shadowy off-shore investment fund called Fairmex) sued Telenor over Vimpelcom. The beneficiary of this lawsuit was Alfa Group–the first A in AAR. Ultimately Telenor capitulated and came to terms with Alfa.
So maybe it isn’t a coincidence: an ostensibly independent group of minority shareholders files a suit in the Tyumen court that benefits AAR. Telenor’s torturous experience in Siberia shows that the court can exert substantial pressure, enough to compel a capitulation.
In other words, we are seeing a legal pincer movement. Or perhaps more accurately, extortion by law. It seems pretty clear that AAR is attempting to compel BP into buying their half of TNK-BP at a very high price.
As I’ve said before, there is a wicked irony here. BP is being tormented legally for its strategy that relied upon its belief that Russian lawlessness would allow it to flout the TNK-BP shareholder agreement–as long as it had the protection of Igor Sechin. I still do not understand exactly why BP’s bet failed: whether they got played, or murky backroom politics in the lead-up to the Russian presidential election undercut Sechin, or something else. But it is crystal clear that its bet failed spectacularly, and now it will pay. And pay dearly.