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TNK-BP board member quits over shareholders’ row



Thomson Reuters

UPDATE 1-TNK-BP board member quits over shareholders’ row

Fri May 30, 2008 8:20am EDT


(Adds background, details)

MOSCOW, May 30 (Reuters) – A board member at Russian oil firm TNK-BP TNBPI.RTS, half owned by BP (BP.L:QuoteProfileResearch) and a group of Russian tycoons, has resigned citing a deepening row between the shareholders, sources said on Friday.

Independent director Jean-Luc Vermeulen’s resignation on Thursday dealt another blow to the embattled firm, which is Russia’s third-largest.

“Discussions that I had tonight with several advisers led me to the conclusion that I was wrong in believing I could still help with settling the dispute between TNK-BP shareholders,” one source quoted Vermeulen as telling board members in a letter. TNK-BP failed to hold a board meeting in Cyprus on Thursday after BP rejected a demand from the Russian shareholders to replace TNK-BP long-serving Chief Executive Robert Dudley.

Earlier this week both the Russian side and BP publicly aired differences over strategy at the company.

Many analysts say differences emerged after months of intense Kremlin pressure on TNK-BP as neither the Russian owners nor BP are prepared to sell out to a Russian state-controlled company, such as gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM: QuoteProfileResearch).

The Russian shareholders, Viktor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman and Len Blavatnik, acting through three investment vehicles known collectively as Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR), did however meet BP CEO Tony Hayward in Cyprus to talk strategy, BP said.

The Russian shareholders had said in a joint statement they wanted to expand abroad even if foreign acquisitions competed with existing BP businesses, and that they wanted a better balance between Russian and foreign staff.

BP and the Russian billionaires each have five representatives on the 10-seat board of TNK-BP.

Vermeulen, a career oil man since 1970, has worked at French oil firms Elf Aquitaine, TotalFina and Total (TOTF.PA: QuoteProfileResearch). He was sitting on TNK-BP’s board as an independent director within the Russian quota.

Vermeulen’s resignation comes on top of other problems at TNK-BP, which last year was forced to cede control of a major Siberian gas project to Gazprom.

Mounting state pressure on the firm, including the arrest of an employee on an industrial espionage charge, a raid on its Moscow offices and a court injunction to stop it using BP specialists, are signs the time to sell is approaching, analysts say.

(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Sue Thomas)



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