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Russian agents raid BP office in Moscow

May 21, 2008

Russian agents raid BP office in Moscow

Russian security agents raided the Moscow office of BP yesterday for the second time in two months. The incident comes amid growing speculation that the Kremlin is trying to force BP’s Russian partners in TNK-BP, its Moscow-based joint venture, to cede control of their 50 per cent stake to a state-controlled company, such as Gazprom.

Members of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) arrived at the British oil group’s office yesterday morning and began to search for unspecified documents. A BP spokesman in London confirmed that the raid had taken place. “We are co-operating with them fully,” he said. “Our business is carrying on as normal.”

He added that the raid was part of a “continuation of a criminal espionage investigation” that led to similar searches in March at the separate Moscow offices of both BP and TNK-BP.

A Russian employee of TNK-BP was charged with industrial espionage. His brother, who did not work for TNK-BP but who was linked to the British Council, was also detained.

BP’s office in Moscow employs about 50 people who oversee Russian businesses that have no connection with TNK-BP. They include a joint venture with Rosneft, which has interests in the Sakhalin project in Russia’s Far East.

TNK-BP, which was established in 2003, is half-owned by BP, with the remainder belonging to a consortium of oligarchs Mikhail Fridman, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik.

A lock-in agreement that prevented the Russians from selling expired at the end of last year and there has been speculation that Gazprom, the Kremlin- controlled gas monopoly, wants to get an interest. The Kremlin has been seeking to cement its dominant position over Russia’s oil and gas industry.

TNK-BP produces 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, accounting for a quarter of BP’s worldwide production.

Yesterday’s raid on BP’s offices in Moscow is only the latest in a series of setbacks faced by the British oil firm in Russia. BP is also fighting a challenge in a Siberian court from Tetlis, a small Moscow-based brokerage that is a minority shareholder in TNK-BP.

Tetlis recently brought an injunction against BP claiming that it was overcharging TNK-BP for the services of expatriate specialist engineers and geologists. The injunction forced 148 Moscow-based BP employees who had been seconded to TNK-BP to stop work at the joint venture.

It has also emerged that Tetlis has been a minority shareholder for only a few weeks after it bought $40,000 (£20,500) worth of stock. At the time, BP said that the row affected specialist technical staff, such as oilfield engineers and reservoir managers, from countries including Britain, the United States, China and Germany.

— Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to award three executives was yesterday rejected by investors at its annual meeting. One-third of Shell shareholders who voted opposed the bonus scheme. When added to those who withheld their votes, 49.5 per cent of voting shareholders did not support the bonuses.

Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil have been asked for $1.9 billion from Nigeria under a production-sharing contract relating to two deepwater fields. Nigeria says the money is owed under contracts for the Bonga and Erha fields. President Yar’Adua has ordered NNPC, the state oil firm, to recover the money.

TNK-BP

— Formed in 2003

— Refineries in Ryazan (near Moscow), Saratov, Nizhnevartovsk and Lisichansk, Ukraine

— Employs 61,000 people

— Owns 1,600 petrol stations in Russia

— Produces 1.4million to 1.5million barrels of oil per day, with 8.22 billion barrels of oil of proved reserves

— Main fields are in Siberia and the Volga-Urals region

 

 

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article3972979.ece

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