UPDATE 1-BP gets upper hand in Russian director suit

By Vladimir SoldatkinMOSCOW, Oct 12 (Reuters) - A Russian court is likely to throw out a $2.8 billion lawsuit against two BP executives on the board of the British major’s Russian joint venture, TNK-BP , after a judge denied plaintiffs more time to secure the necessary shareholder support.Andrey Prokhorov, a minority shareholder in TNK-BP, filed the lawsuit against Peter Charow and Richard Sloan, related to BP’s attempts to sign a tie-up with state-controlled Rosneft, despite a previous commitment by BP to use TNK-BP as its main investment vehicle in Russia.However, Russian law on joint-stock companies stipulates a plaintiff in such an action must own at least 1 percent of the company’s shares for the case to proceed.Prokhorov does not have this threshold in TNK-BP, Russia’s third-largest oil company, and a Russian judge on Wednesday refused him more time to attract other investors to his case, his lawyer and a lawyer for BP said.”Today the court, during preliminary hearings, thwarted the plaintiffs requests to present them with more time so that other shareholders would join the lawsuit,” Konstantin Lukoyanov, a lawyer for BP, told Reuters by telephone.This means that the case should be thrown out on the date set for a hearing on Nov. 10.It is a welcome court victory for BP, which is locked in dispute with the other main shareholder in TNK-BP, AAR, a grouping of Russian and Russia-connected oligarchs, over the failed Rosneft share swap and Arctic exploration deal.ANOTHER LAWSUITProkhorov has also filed another lawsuit, claiming damages worth 154 billion roubles ($5 billion), against BP Russian Investments and BP Plc.Minority shareholders, headed by Prokhorov, claimed that TNK-BP suffered damages over BP’s decision not to replace it with the Russian venture in the Rosneft deal, which was signed in January and collapsed in May after a legal challenge from the four Soviet-born billionaires who own half of TNK-BP Ltd.The deal failed after the partners, operating as the Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR) consortium, won an London court injunction and several rounds of arbitration.The arbitration process, which is confidential, resumed on Sept. 28 and is seeking to determine whether BP violated an exclusivity clause in the TNK-BP shareholder agreement by doing the deal with Rosneft and is liable to damages.AAR has said it has no connection with the suit brought by the TNK-BP minority shareholders.The Kremlin has said it will not intervene in the dispute and that consultations should continue at the corporate level to resolve the matter.Rosneft has since struck a major exploration deal with U.S. Exxon Mobil that covers the Arctic offshore exploration blocks that were originally part of its deal with BP.