Russia has launched a lawsuit against Allied Domecq over Stolichnaya in the US. Soyuzplodoimport, the state-run Russian company which claims the rights to the vodka brand name, filed a claim against the drinks company in Manhattan federal court last week.

Soyuzplodimport claims that AD broke the law when it signed a distribution deal with fugitive vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler in 2001. The company claims that Shefler's SPI Spirits Group held the rights to Stolichnaya illegally.

Chris Swonger, a senior vice president at AD's Washington office, said his company's deal with Shefler's spirits group was "incontestable" and "ironclad."

"Allied Domecq will vigorously defend its rights," Swonger said.

Lawyers for Soyuzplodoimport, an arm of the Agriculture Ministry, allege that Shefler forged and destroyed documents to buy Stolichnaya and other popular Soviet era brands at a fraction of their market value in a murky insider deal in the mid 1990s.

"US sales of vodka using the misappropriated marks now exceed $600m annually," said Steven Madison, a lawyer with US law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, which is representing Soyuzplodoimport.

SPI Group has said that Stolichnaya is the world's best-selling vodka, with US$500m in consumer retail sales in export markets.