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U.S. Judge Rejects Latest Legal Effort By Former Yukos Shareholders In Arbitration Fight

The logo of the now-defunct Yukos oil company

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. federal judge has rejected an effort by former shareholders of the dismantled Russian oil giant Yukos to force a powerful U.S. law firm to turn over evidence related to a $50 billion arbitration fight.

The skirmish was the latest to ripple out from the demise of Yukos, whose founder spent years in a Siberian prison and whose largest assets were seized by the state-controlled company Rosneft.

The former Yukos owners alleged in a U.S. court filing that lawyers at Baker Botts helped Rosneft manipulate an Armenian court ruling.

The Yukos lawyers sought to obtain evidence from Baker Botts that they hoped could then be used in a Netherlands appeals court, which is examining the $50 billion arbitration award handed down in 2014.

Baker Botts has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

In her ruling issued August 18, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell rejected the Yukos shareholders’ arguments "as a matter of discretion," saying they hadn't demonstrated how any new evidence would influence the outcome of the Dutch appeal.

A spokesman for the former Yukos shareholders did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Once Russia’s largest oil company, Yukos was systematically dismantled in the early 2000s through a series of bankruptcy proceedings that legal experts have said were rife with inconsistencies.

Assets, including huge Siberian oil fields, were acquired mainly by Rosneft, the government-controlled company run by Igor Sechin, a former intelligence officer and close ally of Putin.

Yukos was built up by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was later prosecuted for financial crimes after purportedly crossing Putin in the early 2000s.

After nearly a decade in prison, Khodorkovsky fled Russia and he now funds opposition political groups from abroad.

As Rosneft took control of Yukos's assets, shareholders sought compensation for Yukos's dismantling. Khodorkovsky is not party to the legal fight, though his former partners are.

The Yukos shareholders earlier had won a small victory in June when a U.S. judge in California authorized subpoenas of another lawyer who allegedly was involved in the Armenian court cases on behalf of Rosneft.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the August 18 ruling by Howell would have any effect on the earlier California order.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.