Norex Sues Blavatnik, Access in New York Over Yugraneft

Norex Petroleum Ltd. sued billionaire Leonard Blavatnik and his Access Industries Inc. over allegations they schemed to strip its controlling interest in a Russian oil company valued at an estimated $500 million.

The suit by Norex, filed yesterday in New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan, follows dismissal of a federal racketeering suit based on the same transaction. Thirteen other defendants, including TNK-BP Ltd., a joint venture with BP Plc, were named in yesterday’s suit.

Norex, a Cypriot company with an office in Calgary, claimed that New York-based Access and other defendants illegally took control of ZAO Yugraneft Corp. through illegal means, including corrupting Russian court proceedings and sending militiamen armed with AK-47s to storm Yugraneft’s offices and production field. Norex is seeking damages of at least $500 million.

“As a result of defendants’ acts, Norex lost the value of its controlling shareholding in Yugraneft, estimated at $500 million, and has not been paid tens of millions of dollars in dividends,” according to the suit.

A U.S. appeals court in September upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the federal racketeering case, citing a ruling by the Supreme Court that limits the reach of civil claims for acts occurring outside the country.

Michael Sitrick, a spokesman for Access Industries, said the company hadn’t been served with a copy of the complaint.

‘Dismissed Twice’

“In 2002, Access was named by Norex as a defendant, along with a dozen other putative defendants from around the world, in a federal court lawsuit that was dismissed twice by the federal court in New York,” he said in e-mailed statement. “Access has always maintained that Norex’s claims were meritless. It does not expect that Norex will have any better success in the state court than it did in its unsuccessful eight-year battle in the federal court.”

Other defendants include billionaire Victor Vekselberg, a former university classmate of Blavatnik’s, according to the suit, his company, Renova Inc. and BP Plc.

E-mails sent to AAR -- the group Alfa, Access, Renova that represents the four billionaires who own 50 percent of TNK-BP -- and Renova spokesman Andrei Shtorkh weren’t immediately returned. A call to Shtorkh’s cell phone was answered by a woman who said he was unavailable because today is a holiday.

David Nicholas, a spokesman for London-based BP, and Thomas Kiehn, a spokesman for TNK-BP, declined to comment.

Access is a closely held company controlled by Blavatnik, who was ranked No. 93 on Forbes magazine’s 2010 list of the the world’s billionaires. Vekselberg was ranked No. 113.

The case is Norex Petroleum Ltd. v. Access Industries Inc., 650591/2011, New York state Supreme Court (Manhattan).

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