BP accuses TNK-BP Russian partners of staging coup
MOSCOW, June 11
MOSCOW, June 11 (Reuters) - Oil major BP accused its Russian partners of staging a boardroom coup at their 50-50 Russian oil joint venture TNK-BP on Wednesday as the two sides prepared to re-enter negotiations on the future of the company.
The London-based oil major and its Russian partners, a group of four Russian billionaires united in the Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR) consortium, have been locked in a long-running conflict over strategy and ownership at the company.
Mounting pressure over recent months on the troubled oil firm, including tax probes, raids on offices and the arrest of an employee, have led analysts to speculate that a state-controlled energy giant will soon muscle in on TNK-BP.
"We believe that AAR and a number of high-level managers affiliated with AAR are acting in violation of the shareholders agreement and are trying to establish control over TNK-BP," BP spokesman Vladimir Buyanov said.
Vedomosti business daily quoted a BP representative at TNK-BP, Alastair Graham, as saying the same thing in a letter addressed to the Russian partners in the venture.
A source close to BP confirmed the existence of the letter.
AAR had no immediate comment on the reports.
Russian police spent more than five hours on Tuesday questioning TNK-BP's TNBPI.RTS CEO Robert Dudley in a back-tax probe, the latest difficulty faced by the firm.
At the same time, a court case is dragging on in Siberia which has prevented TNK-BP from using the services of 140 specialist BP secondees.
Industry sources have said Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM) is keen to buy a stake in TNK-BP, but do not rule out the possibility that state-controlled oil champion Rosneft may also be interested.
Much of the conflict at the firm has been prompted by a battle over who is forced to sell down their stake in order to let the state in.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward said while visiting Russia for an investment conference last weekend that he was confident BP would resolve its differences with its Russian partners and believed TNK-BP had a big future ahead of it.
The Russian partners have consistently said they have no intention to sell their stakes. (Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)