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TNK-BP chief faces Russia inquiry

 

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TNK-BP chief faces Russia inquiry

By Catherine Belton in Moscow

Published: June 10 2008 03:00 | Last updated: June 10 2008 03:00

Robert Dudley, the BP-backed chief executive of TNK-BP, the Russian oil venture, will go to Russia’s Interior Ministry today for questioning as part of a criminal investigation into corporate tax evasion, people close to the company said yesterday.

Mr Dudley is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between BP and its Russian partners for control of the 50-50 oil venture after the Russian billionaire shareholders demanded his dismissal over their claims he is running the venture in the interests of BP.

Mr Dudley received the summons to be questioned as a witness the day after BP rejected the demand; he later received a summons to attend questioning by a Moscow prosecutor’s office as part of a probe into alleged violations of labour laws.

People close to the company say they believe the summonses are part of a concerted effort to engineer Mr Dudley’s removal as TNK-BP’s chief executive so Russian shareholders can take control of the company. A senior government official said over the weekend that the stand-off could only be resolved if one side in the venture sold their stake to another.

The company has been raided as part of an investigation into industrial espionage and its foreign specialists barred from work following a court injunction. The government official said a sale of the company to Gazprom, the state-controlled energy conglomerate, would be the “worst outcome”, but a person close to TNK-BP said he believed the Kremlin was still divided on how to resolve the conflict.

Representatives of Mr Dudley were questioned for nearly two hours at a Moscow prosecutors’ office yesterday in response to the summons sent last week. Mr Dudley did not appear because the summons said he could send a representative, TNK-BP said yesterday.

Prosecutors received boxes of documents they requested as part of the probe and yesterday demanded more information, TNK-BP said. The probe came in response to a request by a Russian labour union, documents seen by the Financial Times show.

One person said the Russian investors would renew talks with Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, tomorrow.

 

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