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TNK-BP joint venture dispute cools as new agreement is signed

TNK-BP joint venture dispute cools as new agreement is signed

By Russell Hotten, Industry Editor

Last Updated: 12:42am BST 05/09/2008

BP chief executive Tony Hayward expects the wave of legal and regulatory action against the company’s operations in Russia to cease following a preliminary deal to resolve a fierce dispute with shareholders at its oil joint venture TNK-BP.

  BP chief Tony Hayward expects action against the company's Russian operations to end
Tony Hayward says the new understanding paves the way for growth and expansion.

The UK company has bowed to pressure from its Russian partners in TNK-BP and agreed to the removal of the venture’s long-suffering chief executive, Bob Dudley, to overhaul the corporate governance structure, and to consider a stock market listing of up to 20pc of the business. 

For months BP and a group of Russian oligarchs was engaged in an extraordinary power struggle over TNK-BP, with the Kremlin warned by the British Government and Brussels that its failure to intervene in the dispute was eroding Russia’s reputation as a place to invest.

But Mr Hayward insisted yesterday that a memorandum of understanding signed by both camps paved the way for TNK-BP to enter a new phase of growth and expansion. The MoU was “sensible and pragmatic”, Mr Hayward said, adding: “We’ve made some modest adjustments to give [TNK-BP] a little more freedom.” 

BP and its staff at TNK-BP suffered a string of problems, including police raids, back-tax demands, legal action by a minority shareholder, and refusals to renew visas. Mr Hayward “hopes that the issues that TNK-BP has been dealing with will become less [frequent] as we go forward”. 

Under the memorandum, Mr Dudley, who fled Russia claiming months of harassment, will stand down by the end of the year. BP had steadfastly refused to sanction Mr Dudley’s removal, but insisted yesterday that he always planned to step down next year anyway. Mr Dudley will be offered a job at BP.

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  • Mr Hayward said: “Bob is hugely experienced and has done a great job at TNK-BP. We would not want to lose him, and I have a few ideas about roles.” But one analyst pointed out that, given Mr Dudley’s seniority, it will not be easy to slot him into the BP empire without “ruffling feathers”.

    The new chief executive will be nominated by BP, and approved by the TNK-BP board. However, the candidate must have extensive experience working in Russia and be “proficient” in the language. Mr Hayward said he had a shortlist of “about 10” possible candidates, some of whom were Russian nationals.

    Under the new terms, BP and the Russian shareholders will each have four directors on the board, and three new “independent” directors will be appointed. BP and the Russian investors, which operate under a consortium called Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR), will retain their 50-50 ownership of the company.

    Some observers, including former Russian president Vladimir Putin, believe the root of TNK-BP’s problems is the equal share split, which means no side has final executive control. Mr Hayward said the three independent directors will introduce a “dispute resolution mechanism within the power structure of the organisation”.

    Each side may contribute 10pc of their stakes for an initial public offering, raising hundreds of millions of pounds for both sides. Mr Hayward said the London stock market was a “credible” place to list, but “no final decisions have been made”.

    TNK-BP, Russian third-biggest oil firm, accounts for 25pc of BP’s global production, 10pc of its earnings and a fifth of its reserves, and owns 1,600 petrol stations.

    One of the billionaires behind AAR, TNK-BP chairman Mikhail Fridman, said yesterday: “We are beginning an exciting new chapter in the development of a great company.” The agreement was also welcomed by Russia’s deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin.

    BP’s shares initially rose sharply on news of the settlement, but fell back on realisation that the two camps still had months of negotiations ahead of them. BP edged up ½ to 505½p.

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