A four year battle for the ownership of the world's largest selling vodka, Stolichnaya, has ended with a landmark decision by a Moscow Court that has ruled that Stoli and 42 other vodka brands be returned to state ownership, the BBC reported today.

The report by BBC's online service says the Stolichnaya rights will be returned to the Ministry of Agriculture from private company Soyuzplodimport (SPI).

However, Allied Domecq, which owns the rights to the vodka in the US said it had received nothing official on the matter.

SPI purchased the rights to Stolichnaya and the other vodkas in 1997 for US$300,000. However, the Russian state has been trying to retrieve them almost ever since, claiming the body which sold the rights had no legal right to do so.

The Ministry has also disputed the price paid, saying Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya alone were worth $400m.

SPI says the sale was all legal and above board.

Despite the ruling, SPI is still thought to be selling the vodka, and there is some confusion over how the brand names will now be used. Allied's spokesman, however, said any change in ownership would not affect its rights to Stolichnaya.

Meanwhile, the Russian federal budget received 21.3 billion rubles (US$698m) in excise from the sale and production of alcohol products in 2001, 40.9% more than the previous year, the Tax Ministry said.

Some 131m decaliters of vodka and spirits were produced in Russia last year, up 8.4% on 2000, according to the State Statistics Committee