MOSCOW A Russian court on Monday postponed hearings on a suit brought against BP (BP.L) by minority shareholders who allege the British oil major cut TNK-BP TNBP.MM out of a possible exploration deal with state oil group Rosneft (ROSN.MM).
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)