BP to widen TNK-BP sale talks beyond Russian oligarchs

The UK oil company will open discussions this week with potential purchasers over the sale of its half of joint Russian venture TNK-BP, which could lead to a $30-billion windfall.

The oligarchs who belong to the Alfa Access Renova (AAR) consortium that own the other 50% of the venture will tell BP they want to exercise their right to negotiate for the stake.

The Russians have indicated they will only offer $7-billion (£4.5-billion), claiming that a further $13-billion would be accounted for by AAR dropping claims for compensation over the failure of a previous attempt by BP to tie up a separate deal with Rosneft against the wishes of the oligarchs.

BP, which has been in conflict with its Russian shareholders for a long time, will on Saturday be allowed to widen purchase talks to some of other companies that have expressed an interest in the 50% holding as a 45-day notice period runs out.

Neither BP nor AAR was willing to comment but industry sources confirmed that moves to finalise the future TNK-BP ownership structure would move into a different phase this week.

A host of major names have been suggested as alternative buyers to AAR, including ExxonMobil and Shell as well as Chinese and Russian firms. Most independent analysts believe BP could obtain as much as $30-billion for its stake.

Confirmed interest
None of those alternative firms has publicly confirmed their interest and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago Alfa Group chairperson, Mikhail Fridman, claimed there were "no serious buyers" outside his own consortium.

He also believed that the Kremlin would support an AAR takeover while "any foreign company would face a very complex process of getting approvals".

AAR is said to have failed to drum up support from the international loan market for a $20-billion financing that would help it to acquire BP's stake, according to the International Financing Review's website. That publication speculated that AAR might eventually turn out to be a seller of its own 50% stake rather than a buyer.

BP announced on 1 June that it had received a number of unsolicited approaches for a stake that had yielded enormous profits for the UK oil company since it was bought in 2003 for $8-billion.

In a separate development, the head of BP's London-based tanker chartering business, who had been suspended pending a bribery investigation, has left the company.

BP said that Lars Dencker Nielsen had left for "personal reasons" while its internal inquiry and that of the Serious Fraud Office continued.

The whereabouts of Dencker Nielsen was unknown but the Danish national has previously denied any wrongdoing while BP said his post was being filled temporarily by "regional managers".

The affair emerged in April when a whistleblower inside BP sent a letter to its chief executive, Bob Dudley, as well as one to the SFO, setting out what he claimed was a five-year catalogue of bribery and corruption within the chartering department of BP Shipping. – © Guardian News and Media 2012


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