Russia's Transneft to fight order to release minutes

MOSCOW, May 21 (Russia) - Russia's oil pipeline monopoly said on Saturday it would appeal a court ruling ordering it to release board meeting minutes, saying an anti-corruption blogger wanted the information as part of a conspiracy against Russia.

A court ruled in February that Transneft <TRNF_p.MM> should release minutes of board meetings to holders of its preferred shares, which include major Russia-focused investment funds as well as Alexei Navalny, an activist shareholder and blogger.

Navalny has sought the documents to back up allegations he made last year that about $4 billion was embezzled during the construction of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, Russia's lifeline to the fast-growing markets of Asia.

The company denies the allegations.

"We are not going to hand anything over to crooks," CEO Nikolai Tokarev, a former spy who belongs to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's inner circle, was quoted as saying by the daily newspaper Izvestia.

"If (a court appeal of the ruling) does not help, we will have a look at what other resources we can use so that we have nothing to do with this person," Tokarev said.

Transneft says some of the content of the minutes, including its dealings with major customer China, is confidential and can harm Russia's interests if publicly disclosed.

In a response in his blog, normally viewed by about 150,000 people a day, Navalny joked: "What can I say. It is all true."

He added: "But the court decision has taken force. They must provide the documents."

Since making public his allegations against Transneft as well as other state-controlled firms and launching an internet campaign against Putin's United Russia party, Navalny himself has become a target of investigations.

Officials said earlier this month they were investigating him on suspicion of defrauding a state-owned timber company of more than 1 million roubles ($35,450). He could face up to five years in prison if tried and convicted.

Investigators also questioned Navalny over a complaint by a pro-Kremlin lawmaker that he desecrated Russia's official state symbol on his website

(Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Peter Graff)