Gazprom sues St. Petersburg government over ruined tower

The Russian oil giant has taken St. Petersburg’s authorities to court for misleading it over its plan to build a giant skyscraper in the city.

Gazprom claims it was City Hall officials who persuaded the company that the ambitious project was feasible and is demanding compensation for its losses (around $244 million).

In December 2010 the city’s governor ordered that the controversial Okhta Tower be relocated following a massive public outcry.

The 403-meter-high modernist behemoth of a structure was to be erected next to the city’s Baroque-style Smolny Cathedral, right in the city’s center.

Although there are strict regulations that forbid spoiling the historical city skyline, St. Petersburg’s authorities voted to make an exception for the Okhta Center.

The decision shocked both local residents and the larger international community. The UN threatened to revoke St. Petersburg’s title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene and call for a closer examination of the plans for the Okhta Center and of the possible damage it could cause to St. Petersburg.

In July 2010, Russia’s Constitutional Court declared that St. Petersburg’s city planners were acting unconstitutionally in permitting Gazprom to build the skyscraper.

Now Gazprom is demanding compensation for what it alleges were officials’ mistakes. The oil giant points out that the cost of the tower amounted to $2.1 billion, $244 million of which had already been spent on the project’s development. The hearing of the case will take place on April 14.

City’s activists are outraged by the oil giant’s appetite.

“Gazprom is trying to force the authorities hand is a double violation of the law,” activist Olga Andronova was quoted as saying by the Vedomosti newspaper. “First the city’s architectural committee illegally permitted Gazprom to build the tower next to a important historic monument, now Gazprom wants them to pay for that from the city’s budget.”

Andronova believes that if Gazprom is to be compensated, “the refund must come right from the officials’ pockets, not from state funds.”

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