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BP’s foreign staff may have to quit Russia ‘in weeks’

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BP’s foreign staff may have to quit Russia ‘in weeks’

By Catherine Belton in Moscow

Published: July 2 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 2 2008 03:00

The BP-backed chief executive of TNK-BP, its Russian oil venture, has warned foreign staff in an e-mail that he and all other foreign employees could be forced to leave Russia by the end of the month because Moscow authorities had not renewed work visas.

As pressure increased on BP amid a bitter corporate war with its Russian partners, Robert Dudley told about 100 foreign employees at TNK-BP that “all expatriate staff may be affected” by the visa problems, “including myself, and may have no choice but to leave Russia by or before the end of July.”

Several senior executives, including the chief financial officer, could have to leave as soon as next week. Mr Dudley could have to leave when his visa expires in two weeks’ time. If senior executives are forced to depart, BP’s Russian partners could win operational control.

BP and its Russian billionaire partners are in a battle for control of the venture, which burst into the open last month. BP has accused the four Russian billionaire shareholders of deploying “corporate raiding” tactics of the 1990s to seize control.

The Russian shareholders, who hold their 50 per cent stake through the AlfaAccess-Renova consortium, say they are merely defending their rights because BP is running the venture as its own subsidiary and say the foreign staff are too costly.

The foreign executives have been engulfed in bureaucratic red tape since April, when one of BP’s Russian billionaire partners, German Khan, a senior manager at TNK-BP, applied for less than half the work permits requested in breach of instructions by Mr Dudley.

The Moscow city government ruled late last week to approve a quota for 71 work permits for foreign staff, leaving the company with not enough time to make individual applications.

A person close to TNK-BP said visa and work permit problems looked “orchestrated and choreographed” to force foreign staff out.

But AAR yesterday said the visa problems had “nothing to do with AAR trying to win control over TNK-BP”.

“This is only about the fact that we want to optimise expenditure and forge a sensible approach to hiring costly foreign specialists,” AAR said.

Russia’s federal migration service said yesterday there were “no obstacles” to the foreign executives gaining the 71 work permits.

TNK-BP’s foreign executives won a temporary reprieve to extend visas until the end of July for two mid-level managers who would have been forced to leave yesterday, and hope to expand it to others. But even that will not give them enough time to win new work permits, the person close to the company said.

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