PARIS— Decisions by separate French courts have removed an immediate threat to the business relationship between French and European launch-service providers and satellite fleet operators caught up in the dispute between the Russian government and the former shareholders of Russia’s Yukos energy company.
In a decision issued April 15, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris, or Paris High Court, ruled that ex-Yukos shareholders’ freeze on around $300 million paid by Paris-based Eutelsat to Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) of Moscow would be lifted.
The court ruled that these assets belonged not to the Russian government per se, and should not be held hostage to the Yukos legal action.
The Paris court’s decision followed a similar ruling rendered April 12 by a court in Evry, France, which is home to the Arianespace launch-service consortium. The Yukos representatives had frozen some $400 million in Roscosmos money paid by Arianespace.
Acting on behalf of the builders of Russia’s Soyuz rocket, Roscosmos — a state-owned corporation that also acts as Russia’s space agency — is Arianespace’s counterparty in the contracts that provide for the export of Russian Soyuz rockets to Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport, where they are launched under Arianespace and French government authority.
An international arbitration panel in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2014 ruled in favor of the ex-Yukos shareholders, who have argued that the Russian government illegally dismantled Yukos, awarding them $50 billion.
Since then, these shareholders have been trying to collect Russian government assets wherever they may find a sympathetic legal environment outside Russia, including France and Belgium. In France, different shareholders representatives sought seizure of the Eutelsat and Arianespace payments.
Eutelsat and RSCC have a long-standing strategic partnership sharing orbital slots and satellites with coverage over Russian territory.
RSCC on April 18 issued a statement applauding the Paris court ruling that money owed to RSCC should not be considered as part of the Russian government’s debt.
“We are satisfied with the equitable decisions of the French court,” RSCC Director-General Yuri Prokhorov said. “We are looking forward to further successful cooperation with our strategic partner, Eutelsat, in satellite communications and digital processing.”
Roscosmos said the Evry court’s decision is one more precedent that bodes well for the French-Russian Soyuz partnership and reduces the “situation of uncertainty that exists about the financial prospects of [the Europeanized Soyuz] and threatened to inflict significant damage on French and Russian interests in the filed of commercial launches into space.”
Roscosmos Deputy Director-General Sergey Savelyev said that that while the Paris court decision “is indeed an important milestone in the litigation surrounding the business relationship between Arianespace and Roscosmos,” it’s likely that other asset-seizure attempts will be made.
“Of course, having two positive precedents on hand makes dealing with them much easier,” Savelyev said. “However, one cannot exclude the fact that opponents of Arianespace and Roscosmos are guided not only by the desire to win and get the money, but also to cause the greatest possible damage to the benefit of other players in the space launch market.”