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BP Russia chief in corporate tax probe

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BP Russia chief in corporate tax probe

By Catherine Belton in Moscow

Published: June 4 2008 23:33 | Last updated: June 4 2008 23:33

The chief of BP’s Russian oil venture was on Wednesday summoned for questioning by the interior ministry as part of a criminal investigation into possible large-scale tax evasion.

The move adds to the pressure on BP amid a battle for control of TNK-BPbetween its British and Russian shareholders. Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, is due in Moscow today for talks with the company’s Russian shareholders and government officials aimed at resolving a stand-off that is threatening to paralyse the company’s decision-making.

Robert Dudley was called in to attend questioning as a “witness” on Wednesday by the investigative department of the interior ministry’s central federal region, according to a copy of the order seen by the Financial Times. The document was signed by a tax investigator and dated May 30.

The interior ministry would not comment but confirmed that the department was investigating possible tax evasion at Slavneft, an oil company 50 per cent owned by TNK-BP.

Mr Dudley has also been called in for questioning by the Presnensky region of the Moscow prosecutor’s office as part of an inquiry into whether TNK-BP Management, the TNK-BP subsidiary via which foreign employees are hired, is in breach of labour regulations, according to a summons dated June 3.

A person close to the company said the move followed minor infringements of the labour code that the company had since corrected. The person said he feared the summonses were “part of a concerted effort to get rid of Mr Dudley”. If TNK-BP Management is found in violation of the labour code, Mr Dudley could be suspended for between three months and three years.

Less than a week ago TNK-BP’s Russian billionaire shareholders in the 50-50 venture demanded Mr Dudley’s removal as chief executive. BP is backing Mr Dudley, who people close to the company said had gone against the odds to try to balance shareholder interests.

People close to the company say they believe TNK-BP’s Russian billionaire shareholders are accelerating a takeover attempt of the company ahead of the possible sale of their 50 per cent to a state-controlled company such as Gazpromor Rosneft.

People close to Alfa-Access-Renova, the holding company via which the four Russian shareholders hold their stake, say AAR is unhappy with the company’s performance and the costs involved in hiring the foreign employees.

EDITOR’S CHOICE

TNK-BP under renewed Gazprom pressure – Apr-23

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

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