U.S. lawyer claims $6 billion in damages for Yukos shareholders

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WASHINGTON, October 26 (RIA Novosti, Alexey Berezin) - An attorney in the United States representing minority shareholders in the Russian embattled oil major Yukos has claimed that they are owed $6 billion in damages.

Thomas Johnson, from Washington law office Covington and Burling, told RIA Novosti that minority shareholders had bought 115,000 Yukos shares at market price and had sustained losses of about $6 billion because of a conspiracy to effectively renationalize Yukos without providing compensation for its owners.

He said he was optimistic about winning a suit brought by 12 shareholders against the Russian Federation, state-owned energy companies and top executives, although he added the trial could be a long one.

Johnson also said Russia's Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko had been served with a notification of a lawsuit while on a visit to the U.S. and had been told what the documents meant.

He added that on Wednesday a court would receive a sworn statement from the person who gave Khristenko the documents, despite assertions made by a member of the minister's delegation, Stanislav Naumov, to the contrary.

"It is their problem," Naumov said in response to the U.S. attorney. "The court will figure it out."

Meanwhile, Nikolai Krylov, a lawyer for Gazprom, one of the companies named in the suit, said the $6 billion claim had no chance of succeeding.

By the end of 2004, Russia's tax authorities said Yukos owned more than $25 billion in back taxes, which lead to the company's core production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, being put up for auction. It was later bought by state-owned oil major Rosneft, which is one of the companies named in the suit. Former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence after being convicted of tax evasion and other offenses.

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