TNK-BP’s Lazurenko Fraud Case Can’t Be Tried in U.K., Judge Says

TNK-BP, the Russian oil venture between BP Plc and a group of billionaires, can’t sue Igor Lazurenko, former head of logistics, in the U.K. over its allegations of fraud, a court ruled.

TNK-BP’s claim should be dealt with by Russian courts, Judge Andrew Sutcliffe said in a written decision today in London ending a worldwide freezing order against about $39 million in assets the venture said were linked to the fraud.

“Russia is the natural forum for the determination of this dispute,” Sutcliffe said. There is an issue that needs to be tried, he said, while calling TNK-BP’s claim “weak” on facts.

BP ended all legal disputes with its Russian partners in TNK-BP this month, paving the way for a sale of its stake in the Moscow-based venture to OAO Rosneft and an end to its public spat with Mikhail Fridman and the other investors. Rosneft agreed in October to buy BP’s stake for cash and shares, and pay cash for the billionaires’ half.

TNK-BP sued Lazurenko, his wife, business partners and several affiliated companies, saying he solicited payments from suppliers to award them contracts and funneled money into a Montenegro hotel business. Lazurenko, who fled Russia in April, told the court he had documents showing TNK-BP was involved in fraud with senior government officials. The venture called the claims blackmail and said they were unproven.

“TNK-BP is consulting with its legal team with regards to a possible response and the future pursuit of its claims against Mr. Lazurenko,” company spokeswoman Katja Ulanova said in an e-mail.

Lazurenko’s lawyer, Michael Armstrong, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

TNK-BP disciplined 92 people last year in an internal corruption probe that led to 37 criminal cases.

The Russian Department of Internal Affairs is investigating a separate criminal complaint against Lazurenko over oil contracts, Judge Sutcliffe said in his ruling.

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