* Shareholders claimed TNK-BP suffered from Rosneft deal
* New hearing scheduled for July 26
* Damages sought cut to $8.8bln from $12.5bln
MOSCOW, July 9 A Russian court on Monday
postponed hearings on a suit brought against BP by
minority shareholders who allege the British oil major cut
TNK-BP out of a possible exploration deal with state
oil group Rosneft.
The Federal Arbitration Court in the Siberian city of Tyumen
scheduled a new hearing for July 26 after reopening a case that
it threw out last year.
The amount of damages being sought by the minority
shareholder group has, meanwhile, been cut to $8.8 billion from
$12.5 billion previously, a representative for BP said.
The case was reopened amid renewed hostilities between
TNK-BP's co-owners, BP and a quartet of billionaire investors,
that escalated after BP announced last month that it would seek
to sell its stake in Russia's third-largest oil firm.
The minorities, led by Andrey Prokhorov, had claimed that
TNK-BP suffered financial losses when it was excluded last year
from a proposed exploration alliance between BP and Rosneft.
The billionaire co-owners of TNK-BP, who deny any connection
to the minority suit, are seeking a separate arbitration ruling
under UK law that would enable them to sue BP for damages in the
international courts over the failed Rosneft deal.
The billionaire shareholders, represented through the AAR
consortium, argue that the BP-Rosneft alliance violated the
TNK-BP shareholders agreement, which stipulates that BP should
do business in Russia via TNK-BP, a 50-50 venture.
BP lawyer Konstantin Lukoyanov dismissed the minority suit
as groundless, saying in a statement that the sum of damages
claimed was "absolutely made up and has no relation to reality."
The minorities' law firm, Liniya Prava, was not immediately
available for comment. The minorities own shares in TNK-BP's
listed subsidiary, TNK-BP Holding, which has a small free float.
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing
by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Jane Merriman)