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RUSSIA

2 Regions Claim $170Bln From Total

The regions of Volgograd and Saratov are claiming up to $170 billion from oil group Total in a legal case going back to the tumultuous expansion at Elf Aquitaine, now part of Total, the Le Figaro newspaper said Thursday.

A legal probe had been opened to study complaints by the two regions, filed in 2006, the newspaper reported. They say they did not get enough profits from a revenue-sharing contract dating back to 1990. A lawyer for Total said there were no grounds for a dispute.

Speaking on the sidelines of an oil industry summit in Paris, Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie said he was not aware of the matter.

"Ridicule never did anyone any real harm. I am not aware of anything," he said. "The amount in itself appears to have little coherence.''

Elf chairman and chief executive Loik le Floch-Prigent agreed in the early 1990s, when the company was still majority state-owned, to develop an oil field east of the Volga River. Media reports at the time said Elf would have a 30-year production agreement and receive 12.5 percent of the oil as royalty and 55 percent to recover expenses. The Russian government and the regions would get the remainder. Le Figaro said the two regions said the split was 50-50 between Elf and Saratov and Volgograd.

The fields, however, were not put into production. Le Flock-Prigent moved from Elf to Gaz de France in August 1993, to be replaced by Philippe Jaffre, who died in September.
Despite problems in the past, Total is now one of the more successful foreign firms in the country's energy market.

(The Moscow Times 14.iv.08)