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TNK-BP CEO, execs get permits to stay in Russia

Reuters

UPDATE 2-TNK-BP CEO, execs get permits to stay in Russia

Wed Jul 2, 2008 10:25am EDT

(Adds CEO’s visa)

By Katya Golubkova

MOSCOW, July 2 (Reuters) – Russia will renew work permits and visas for the chief executive and managers of BP’s (BP.L: QuoteProfileResearchStock Buzz) oil venture TNK-BP TNBPI.RTS, easing fears of a exodus of foreign staff caught up in a bitter corporate dispute.

Controversy over visas and work permits for international staff is the latest issue to hit TNK-BP, whose owners British oil major BP and four Russian or Russian-born billionaires are at loggerheads over strategy and management tactics.

Many analysts say the battle is about control of the venture, which made a $5.7 billion profit last year. Some industry observers say the Kremlin is playing a key role in a campaign to obtain the venture at some stage.

Konstantin Poltoranin, spokesman for Russia’s migration service, on Wednesday said work permit requests from 49 executives from TNK-BP, who are mainly former executives of BP, would be cleared within 10 days and their visas would be automatically extended.

“We will speed up the process for those whose visas expire earlier,” he said.

The migration service said later TNK-BP Chief Executive Robert Dudley, Chief Financial Officer James Owen and four other vice-presidents would get their visas as early as Thursday.

“We are making concessions … No one will have to leave Russia,” he said.

Sources with knowledge of the situation at TNK-BP told Reuters on Tuesday Dudley and other managers backed by BP might have to leave Russia within weeks, at least temporarily, due to work permit problems.

 

AWAITING MORE PERMITS

TNK-BP said it viewed the development as the first breakthrough over the past two months since it started trying to renew visas and work permits for key staff.

“We hope that, following the clearance of a small group of top foreign managers, similar steps will follow concerning the remaining employees of the company,” a TNK-BP spokeswoman said. BP declined to comment saying it wanted to see official documents.

The Russians have accused BP of limiting TNK-BP’s expansion abroad and have demanded that Dudley, a former BP executive, should resign. They blame him for what they say is poor operating performance and for improperly favouring BP.

BP says Dudley has behaved correctly and that the firm’s performance compares well to its peers.

It has in turn accused the Russian partners of “corporate raiding”, saying they are trying to wrest control of the venture by limiting the number of foreign employees and unfairly criticising BP-nominated managers.

The Russian shareholders have said they are determined to limit Dudley’s influence in the company.

Sources with knowledge of the situation at TNK-BP said that billionaire German Khan, one of the Russian shareholders and a TNK-BP executive director, had asked authorities in a private letter that the quota of international specialists at TNK-BP be lowered to 63.

This move was not agreed with BP or Dudley, sources said.

Dudley had applied to the Moscow authorities to extend working permits for a total of 146 international specialists at TNK-BP but the city on Monday cleared the request for only 71 specialists.

(Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by David Cowell and Erica Billingham)

 

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