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Oil billionaire Viktor Vekselberg sets out peace plan for TNK-BP row

Times Online
July 10, 2008

Oil billionaire Viktor Vekselberg sets out peace plan for TNK-BP row

Viktor Vekselberg, one of the four Russian billionaires who together own a 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP, last night set out a four-point peace proposal aimed at ending the bitter dispute with joint venture partners BP.

Both sides are due to meet tomorrow for a board meeting of TNK-BP International, the company’s parent, and Mr Vekselberg said the agenda would include four main proposals, designed to “buy time” to resolve the feud.

These include a call for all TNK-BP management to leave at the start of next year, with BP retaining the right to nominate a chief executive. Robert Dudley, TNK-BP’s chief executive, who is backed by BP, narrowly held on to his job on Monday after the billionaires failed in their attempt to fire him.

The proposal also calls for directors at the venture’s subsidiaries to be split evenly among BP and the private investor nominees.

It asks for a status change for BP “secondee” workers in Russia, meaning fewer BP secondees at the company.

Lastly, Mr Vekselberg, whose Renova Group owns 12.5 per cent of TNK-BP, would restore power of attorney to Russian executives at the venture.

“We want to find a peaceful solution,” Mr Vekselberg said, but added that Renova would seek international arbitration if a deal with BP cannot be reached. “If we don’t come to an agreement, we don’t have any choice,” he said.

Mr Vekselberg said he is not looking to change the shareholder structure of the venture. The four billionaires — Mr Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman, Len Blavatnik and German Khan — own 50 per cent of Russia’s third-largest oil company through their AAR consortium, with BP holding the other 50 per cent. This ownership structure is reflected fully only on the board of TNK-BP International, the parent company, to which TNK-BP management reports.

The four-point plan follows revelations that the Russian authorities have begun a fresh investigation into TNK-BP’s tax arrangements, just hours after Gordon Brown held talks with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, over the battle for control of TNK-BP.

Tax inspectors have demanded reams of documents relating to payments made to BP specialists seconded to the company between 2006 and 2007.

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