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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dudley 'to walk away from TNK-BP'

27 May 2008  – Upstream OnLine – Robert Dudley, the chief executive of BP's Russian venture, TNK-BP, may soon leave his post due to disagreements between the company's Russian and British shareholders, according to reports. Moscow-based business daily Kommersant quoted a source close to TNK-BP's shareholders as saying that two of three Russian billionaire shareholders of the company, Viktor Vekselberg and Mikhail Fridman, complained about Dudley at their meeting with BP's chief executive Tony Hayward in mid-May. They suggested that Dudley should resign and Vekselberg should take his post, the source said, adding that Hayward rejected the suggestion. BP said it backed Dudley to stay. "BP fully supports Bob Dudley's position as president and chief executive of TNK-BP. Mr Dudley is a highly experienced and outstanding industry executive who has consistently managed the business in the interests of all its shareholders, and BP has absolute confidence in him," a spokesman for the UK supermajor said. The spokesman declined to confirm whether Dudley's position came up at the meeting. Another source close to TNK-BP's shareholders told the paper that the issue was still under consideration. TNK-BP was not immediately available for comment. Dudley, who has been the head of TNK-BP since its creation in 2003, acknowledged for the first time that the Russian and British shareholders have disagreements in an interview published by Vedomosti yesterday. Dudley said in the interview that the disagreements concerned investments and the sale of some assets in Russia, a Reuters report said. Today Kommersant quoted Alastair Graham, the leader of TNK-BP shareholders' team at BP, as saying that the disagreements concerned TNK-BP's expansion plans into foreign markets. He said BP, which owns a half of TNK-BP, believed that TNK-BP could be competitive in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Venezuela, but should avoid countries of higher risks, such as Iraq, Uganda, Syria and Lebanon. TNK-BP has been the subject of long-running market speculation that the Kremlin wants a state company, such as gas export monopoly Gazprom, to buy out the Russian billionaires who own another half the company. TNK-BP's Russian shareholders, who apart from Vekselberg and Fridman include billionaire Len Blavatnik, have repeatedly denied any plans to sell their stake. But analysts have said that mounting state pressure over recent months on TNK-BP, including security service's searches at TNK-BP's and BP's offices, are signs that the forced sell-out is approaching.

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