BP’s $16bn Russia deal is scuppered

Marion Dakers
BP’S historic plans to search for oil in the Arctic were blocked yesterday by its billionaire partners in Russia.

The embattled oil giant’s deal with Russian explorer Rosneft has been left hanging by a thread by an international tribunal, which thwarted the pairing at the request of Alfa Access Renova, a group of oligarchs who own a 50 per cent stake in BP’s joint venture TNK-BP.

AAR yesterday won the ruling in Sweden that prohibits BP’s $16bn (£10bn) share-swap and Arctic exploration deal with Rosneft from moving forward.

The legal block is a big victory for the AAR billionaires, who claimed that a deal with Rosneft unfairly shuts them out of the potentially lucrative but closely-held Arctic oil fields.

Rosneft, which is part-owned by the Russian state, estimates that the offshore fields contain five trillion tonnes of crude oil and ten trillion cubic metres of gas.

The arbitration panel agreed with AAR’s claim that BP’s partnership with Rosneft breaches the rights of TNK-BP, and enforced a temporary injunction awarded in London last month. “We won,” said an AAR spokesperson.

Chief executive Stan Polovets added: “Willfully ignoring the provisions of the shareholder agreement was a serious misjudgment by BP that has severely damaged the relationship between the TNK-BP shareholders.”

AAR owners Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik said BP chief executive Bob Dudley has “harmed BP’s reputation in Russia”.

Relations between AAR and BP have again soured since the Rosneft deal was struck in January. AAR accused the firm of sabotage after it refused to send its members of the TNK board to a last-ditch negotiation meeting in Berlin.

Dudley, who hurriedly left his job at TNK-BP in 2008 amid claims that AAR had harassed him, is said to remain “fully committed to investing in Russia”.

Rosneft declined to comment.

BP plans to return to the arbitration panel with a revised deal, which would keep the £10bn share swap but leave out any mention of an exploration deal, one source familiar with the company said yesterday.

The share swap deal in its current form will expire on 14 April if not completed.

The arbitration ruling, announced at 6pm London time, sent BP’s shares in New York down 50 cents before they recovered the losses to close up 1.25 per cent at $46.81.