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TNK-BP chief is ‘forced out’ of Russia

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TNK-BP chief is ‘forced out’ of Russia

By Catherine Belton in Moscow and Ed Crooks in London

Published: July 25 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 25 2008 03:00

The beleaguered chief executive of BP’s Russian oil joint venture abruptly left the country yesterday, blaming mounting uncertainties over his visa and “sustained harassment”.

As Robert Dudley left, Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, told the Financial Times that the UK company was “not going to be intimidated by strong-arm tactics” into allowing the Russian tycoons who own the other 50 per cent of TNK-BP to take control.

BP said it would launch arbitration proceedings against its Russian partners in TNK-BP to recover “any and all losses” incurred as a result of their bruising battle for control of the company.

Mr Dudley’s departure was kept tightly under wraps until he was flying out of the country. It came just days before Russian authorities were due to decide whether to grant him a new visa, following months of official pressure over his status.

In a statement issued after his departure last night, he said he would continue to lead the company as chief executive from outside Russia. “In the light of uncertainties surrounding the status of my work visa and the sustained harassment of the company and myself I have decided to leave and to work outside Russia temporarily,” he said.

He will work from an undisclosed location, not BP’s London head office. Secret preparations for his move have been made over the past few days, including setting up an office and making legal arrangements.

The Russian shareholders had engaged in a concerted effort to secure Mr Dudley’s dismissal, claiming he was running the company as a subsidiary of BP and maintaining that his employment contract was not valid.

Explaining his decision to leave Russia, Mr Dudley said: “In addition to the much publicised dispute between shareholders, the company and I have faced unprecedented investigations, proceedings, inquiries and other burdens.”

The Russian shareholders have denied any connection to the inquiries and investigations.

BP said it was “deeply disappointed” that Mr Dudley had been forced to leave Russia, but sympathised with his position, and accused the tycoons of orchestrating the “continuing harassment” against him.

Mikhail Fridman, one of the Russian billionaire shareholders, said in a statement last night that Mr Dudley’s insistence that he would continue to run the company outside Russia was “a ridiculous notion”, and reiterated calls for him to be replaced with an independent chief executive.

The tycoons’ consortium declined to comment on BP’s threats to sue the Russian shareholders in Sweden, the legal jurisdiction for agreements setting up TNK-BP.

Mr Dudley was the target of numerous probes into alleged violations of labour laws. He had been called in for questioning by the Interior Ministry as part of an investigation into corporate tax evasion.

Strong-arm tactics, Page 16

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