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Oil: Managers file lawsuit against head of BP’s Russia venture logo

Oil: Managers file lawsuit against head of BP’s Russia venture

Robert Dudley, the chief executive of BP’s joint venture in Russia, said yesterday the dispute with local shareholders was “tearing the company apart”, as his own managers filed a lawsuit against him and there were growing expectations he would be forced to leave the country as early as tomorrow.

Dudley insisted he would carry on as head of the troubled oil venture TNK-BP even though it has been caught in a vicious dispute between BP and its billionaire Russian co-owners, who have demanded his removal.

“We have reached a new low in the tactics being used,” Dudley said yesterday, referring to the legal action against him by a group of TNK-BP managers.

His comments came after the Russian managers at TNK-BP alleged he had mismanaged the company. The employees said they were “fed up” with Dudley and wanted him replaced.

The managers, led by the vice-president for legal issues, Elvardi Stafilov, accused Dudley of discriminating against Russian employees who had lower salaries and inferior promotion prospects.

Additionally, Russia’s federal migration service is refusing to replace Dudley’s visa which runs out tomorrow. As it stands, he will have to leave Russia within 10 days.

Yesterday, BP responded angrily to the migration service’s latest claim that Dudley no longer had a valid labour contract. His contract expired last year but, according to BP, remains valid under Russian law. BP added he also has a work permit. BP executive vice-president Lamar McKay said in a statement: “I am extremely concerned that, yet again, there has been inappropriate and unauthorised interference by TNK-BP shareholder managers in this process.”

BP officials and western diplomats are convinced TNK-BP’s Russian shareholders, led by the billionaire oligarch Mikhail Fridman, are behind the unprecedented campaign by Russian state agencies to harass BP and drive Dudley out of Russia.

Gordon Brown raised TNK-BP’s plight last week at a bilateral meeting with Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev at the G8 summit in Japan. Medvedev said the state was not involved in the dispute, a claim undermined by the apparent complicity of state officials in BP’s persecution.

Diplomats believe the row is “very damaging” to Russia’s business reputation.

BP has said Dudley will continue as chief executive of TNK-BP even if he has to leave Moscow. It acknowledges this will make his job of managing the company harder, but insists he can keep control of day-to-day operations by power of attorney.

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