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TNK-BP being torn apart, claims Dudley

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TNK-BP being torn apart, claims Dudley

By Catherine Belton in Moscow

Published: July 18 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 18 2008 03:00

Robert Dudley, TNK-BP’s embattled chief executive, has warned that a battle between BP and its Russian partners is threatening to tear the oil venture apart, after 16 of the company’s senior Russian managers filed a suit against him for discrimination.

Mr Dudley said the lawsuit was a cynical “attack at the heart of the company”, engineered by BP’s Russian billionaire partners in the 50:50 oil venture to split the company down nationalistic lines.

He said the suit looked timed to complicate his efforts to win a new visa to remain in the country. His current visa is due to expire on Saturday. His forced departure would in effect leave the Russian shareholders with operational control.

“We’ve reached a new low in the tactics being used in the shareholder dispute polarising the organisation in a cynical and destructive way,” he said, defending his record by pointing out that Russian and foreign staff received the same basic salaries and shared top jobs.

“These claims will, if they continue, tear apart the successful company we have built over the past five years.”

Russian immigration officials have said they might not be able to issue a new visa for Mr Dudley because his Russian employment contract expired at the end of last year.

His departure would be a serious setback for BP’s grip on the company in an escalating battle that came to a new head yesterday after the Russian executives claimed he was mismanaging the company without a valid contract.

Three of the Russian managers that filed the lawsuit held a press conference, saying that they believed Mr Dudley hired staff based on nationality.

The Russian shareholders, who hold their 50 per cent stake in the company via the Alfa-Access-Renova consortium, said yesterday they had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

AAR insisted that Mr Dudley’s contract would not be renewed because he had been running the company as a subsidiary of BP.

At a separate briefing, Alastair Graham, BP chief for Russian investments, claimed the lawsuit “represents a new low in AAR’s campaign to create a smokescreen for their attempts to seize control of TNK-BP”.

Mr Graham accused the Russian shareholders, who also hold senior management positions in TNK-BP, of deliberately interfering in immigration matters.

Viktor Vekselberg, one of the Russian billionaire shareholders, sent a letter to the federal migration service on Monday saying he had “initiated the consideration of the termination” of Mr Dudley’s contract.

He said he could not provide the authorities with a copy of a valid contract as they had requested.

Mr Dudley’s team says his contract is still valid under the Russian Labour Code because nobody has informed him that it is to be terminated. The issue could come to a head today when he is due to meet with immigration officials.

A person close to the company said that meeting had been thrown into doubt because Mr Dudley had been summoned for questioning in a probe into labour law violations at exactly the same time.

Mr Dudley said he would not have to leave the country while the authorities were still reviewing the issue.

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