Blavatnik Sued for $2 Billion Over TNK Energy Venture Sale

Feb 05, 2014 11:16 am ET

(Updates with plaintiff’s comments in last paragraphs.)

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaires Leonard Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg were sued by a Russian businessman and lawmaker who claims he’s owed more than $2 billion from the sale of his country’s third-largest oil and gas producer.

Leonid Lebedev, a member of the upper house of the Russian legislature, said in a complaint filed yesterday in New York that the sum came due last year when the company, in which the men all held stakes, was sold to Rosneft OAO, Russia’s largest oil company, for $55 billion.

Lebedev, Blavatnik and Vekselberg held a controlling interest in a company called TNK, according to the complaint filed in state supreme court in Manhattan. They kept their proportionate interests of TNK as it partnered with BP Plc, and the venture was sold to Rosneft last year.

“The TNK-BP partnership was eventually very successful, becoming the third-largest oil and gas producer in Russia,” Lebedev alleged, saying he’s due the money on the sale based on a 2001 investment agreement. The case was brought in New York because the defendants live there and documents related to the deal were drawn up there, according to the complaint.

Rosneft’s March acquisition of TNK-BP increased its prior year’s earnings by more than 50 percent, the Moscow-based company said yesterday.

Blavatnik, 56, has a net worth of $15.6 billion and ranks 54th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He owns New York-based Access Industries Holdings Inc., which controls 14 percent of chemical-maker LyondelBassell NV. Access Industries acquired Warner Music Group in 2011 for $3.3 billion including bond debt.

‘Misleading Recasting’

The complaint doesn’t have any merit, Michael Sitrick, a spokesman for Blavatnik, said in an e-mail.

“It is a false and misleading recasting of the facts,” Sitrick said. “It is an abuse of the American legal system, and seeks to bring false claims based on an alleged grievance arising out of foreign transactions.”

Vekselberg, 56, is chairman of Renova Group, a closely held investment company. His net worth is $14.8 billion, making him 61st on the Billionaires Index.

Andrei Shtorkh, a spokesman for Renova and Vekselberg, declined to comment on the suit in an e-mail.

Terms of the trio’s investment agreement were completed in New York in 2001, although only Lebedev and Vekselberg signed it, according to the complaint.

‘Called Out’

“Blavatnik was abruptly called out of town before he could sign” and later indicated his acceptance by taking steps including the formation of an offshore company to hold their stock and causing it to issue a $200 million promissory note as security for dividend payments, according to the filing.

Lebedev didn’t pursue his claim to the stake earlier because he didn’t want to interfere with the Rosneft deal, said his spokesman, Konstantin Shvartskopf.

“The goal of the joint venture of Lebedev, Blavatnik and Vekselberg was to partner with a super-major such as BP, and then sell,” Shvartskopf said in an e-mail. “Filing a lawsuit before the Rosneft deal was completed would have hurt TNK-BP and the interests of all its shareholders.”

The case is Lebedev v. Blavatnik, 650369-2014, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

--With assistance from Alex Sazonov in Moscow. Editors: Andrew Dunn, Michael Hytha