BP shrugs off threat by partners to block sale

OIL giant BP yesterday vowed to press ahead with the sale of a stake in its Russian venture, dismissing a threat by its billionaire partners to block a deal that could allow the Kremlin to tighten its grip on Russia’s vast energy sector.

On Friday, BP revealed that it had received approaches from unnamed players to buy its 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP, which analysts said could be worth $30 billion (£20bn).

Over the weekend, reports emerged that Alfa-Access-Renova (AAR), the investment vehicle set up by the four Russian billionaires who own the other half of the joint venture, would try to block the sale.

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But a spokesman for BP yesterday said: “We have a contractual right to sell. We will meet our obligations under the shareholder agreement and expect AAR to do the same. We look forward to hearing from AAR directly.”

Sources close to AAR have said the consortium would be willing to buy out BP for $25bn.

BP paid a total of $8bn in 2003 for one half of TNK-BP, a hugely-profitable investment that has yielded $19bn in dividends and accounts for 29 per cent of BP’s production.

The Kremlin is one possible buyer of BP’s stake, which would give the Russian government control over half of the country’s oil and gas production.

Sources said BP has been approached by state energy holding company Rosneftegaz, which controls a stake of more than 75 per cent in Rosneft.

Former deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, an ally of president Vladimir Putin, who has led strategy at Rosneft for almost a decade, was recently named chief executive of Rosneft with a mandate, sources say, to build an oil major of global scale.

Analysts said Gazprom Neft – the oil unit of state gas export monopoly Gazprom – may also emerge as a bidder. Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said the company had held no talks with BP, but added that “everything is interesting to us”.

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