Platon Lebedev, the former Yukos investor locked up in a maximum-security prison in the Polar Ural region of Siberia, was given uncommon cause for celebration yesterday. A Dutch court awarded him and other shareholders in the defunct oil group $850m (£424m) they lost when it was forced into bankruptcy in 2005.
Mr Lebedev owns about 10 per cent of GML, the company formerly known as Group Menatep that made the complaint. The Dutch court upheld an earlier decision from a London arbitration court, which found that Yukos' unwillingness to repay the balance of a loan that Menatep granted to the company was unlawful.
The judgment is just one aspect of a much larger case. GML hopes to extract up to $100bn from the Russian government in compensation for what it alleges was a Kremlin-orchestrated plan to bankrupt the company and ruin its chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is also serving time in Siberia on tax evasion charges
Tim Osborne, the London attorney who heads GML and is leading the legal fight, said the ruling bolsters the bigger case. "The importance of this is that it demonstrates that notwithstanding all of Russia's efforts, once the Western courts get their hand on this, right is done and we get paid."
Yukos International, the Dutch subsidiary that was the defendant in the case, has already paid out the award. In addition to a Guernsey-registered company that ultimately benefits Mr Lebedev, the spoils were divided between several oligarchs. The biggest beneficiary was Leonid Nevzlin, in exile in Israel, who owns about 60 per cent of GML. The rest is owned by Mikhail Brudno, Vladimir Dubov and Vasily Shakhnovsky.
After Khodorkovsky's arrest in 2003, Yukos was broken up and sold, with most assets going to the state-controlled Rosneft at knockdown prices. Rosneft is now worth nearly $90bn.
Yukos was the biggest holding of Menatep, an investment vehicle originally set up by Khodorkovsky. He has long since given up any interest in the group. Its claims were first estimated to be worth around $30bn. But as the oil price has climbed, the size of the loss plus damages has ballooned.
The next legal hurdle for GML comes in November, where a court in The Hague will hear arguments over whether its claims against Yukos, now Rosneft, can be validly brought in Dutch jurisdiction.
Yukos International said yesterday that it would pursue an orderly liquidation of the estimated $1.1bn in assets remaining at the company and disburse it among the more than 50,000 investors who lost billions when Yukos imploded.
Bruce Misamore, managing director of the company said: "There is more to be done but we are now in a strong position to begin to determine how to compensate Yukos Oil Company shareholders both inside and outside Russia who lost their entire investment as a result of the Russian Federation's illegal expropriation".