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Russian Vodka Trademarks Become Pawn In Long-Running Yukos Legal Feud

The rights to the Stolichnaya trademark are part of a dispute brought by shareholders in former oil giant Yukos.

Shareholders in the former Russian oil giant Yukos say a Dutch court has granted them the local rights to the trademarks of two iconic vodka brands controlled by the Russian state.

The seizure of the Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya trademark rights is the shareholders’ most recent move to obtain billions of dollars in damages from the Russian government, a spokesman for the shareholders said on May 18.

It comes after the shareholders obtained a court order in early May to seize 18 registered brands in the Netherlands belonging to Russia, the spokesman, Jonathan Hill, told AFP.

"The two best-known big brand names of these are Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodka," said Hill, adding that the order was also effective in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The rights to Moskovskaya vodka, as well as Stolichnaya, belong to the state-owned Soyuzplodoimport company.
The rights to Moskovskaya vodka, as well as Stolichnaya, belong to the state-owned Soyuzplodoimport company.

If Russia does not pay the compensation award by September 24 in accordance with Dutch enforcement rules, "then we are able to put these trademarks to a public auction," Hill said.

The spokesman said the Russian state was informed of the move last week.

However, Andrei Kondakov, head of the International Legal Defense Center, which represents Moscow's interests in the case, was quoted by TASS as saying neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands had been informed.

The rights to the two vodka brands belong to the state-owned Soyuzplodoimport company, which considers the seizure of the trademarks illegal and plans to appeal.

A representative of the company is quoted by TASS as saying the company is “confident that the seizure of trademarks will be canceled in a judicial proceeding."

The latest twist in the long-running case comes after a Dutch appeals court reinstated an international arbitration panel’s ruling that Russia must pay $50 billion compensation to shareholders in Yukos.

The February 18 decision overturned a 2016 ruling by a district court in The Hague that canceled the compensation order on the grounds that the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) did not have jurisdiction because the case was based on an energy treaty that Russia had signed but not ratified.

Russia's Justice Ministry has lodged an appeal at the Dutch Supreme Court to contest the appeals court’s decision.

Yukos went bankrupt in 2006 after oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky fell out with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the government began demanding billions of dollars in alleged back taxes.

Most of Yukos' assets were absorbed by the state-owned oil producer Rosneft. Former shareholders in Yukos have for years been trying to recover damages.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and TASS
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