Moscow office raid leaves TNK-BP out in the cold

BP's problems in Russia are far from over, it seems: and now Exxon Mobil has snatched its Rosneft deal from under its nose. Ouch.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 03 Jan 2012
Has BP finally learned its lesson about messing with Russian oil billionaires? A Moscow-based business owned by the oil giant has had its offices raided, and the staff told to ‘work from home’ this morning. It’s apparently to do with a court case brought forward in Tyumen, Siberia by one of BP’s Russian partners, which objects to an attempted Arctic oil exploration deal between BP and Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft. Now, not only has Exxon Mobil swooped in on the deal, but BP looks like the victim of bullying by its existing parters. That’s got to smart.

To cut a long story short, BP’s joint venture with AAR, the investment vehicle owned by a group of Russian Oil billionaires is known, confusingly, as TNK-BP. The deal was put under pressure after it emerged BP had also been in secret talks with Rosneft, which culminated in January, in a deal with to explore the Arctic together. But AAR pointed out that when BP signed up to the TNK-BP deal, it had promised not to get involved in any other Russian oil deals without notifying it first.

Andrei Prokhorov, a minority shareholder in TNK-BP, sued BP for it, claiming that two BP execs on the TNK-BP board must have known about the negotiations with Rosneft, and that by failing to tell other board members about it, the group missed on 87bn roubles (£1.8bn) of deals.  

BP already has a long and colourful history in Russia: TNK-BP’s former chief exec, Bob Dudley (who is now CEO of BP), resigned after five years in the post in 2008, claiming he had been hounded out by members of AAR. The British Embassy in Moscow seemed inclined to agree: it accused members of AAR of ‘manipulating elements of the Russian state bureaucracy’ to bring in a replacement for Dudley. So it’s not like BP hadn’t had a taste of what would happen if it got on the wrong side of AAR…

To add insult to injury, though, this morning US oil company Exxon Mobil announced that it had signed up to an agreement with Rosneft to – wait for it – explore the Arctic together. The two firms will apparently shell out $3.2bn on deep-sea exploration, and they’re already best buddies: a spokesman told the BBC that ‘Exxon Mobil has developed an excellent working relationship with Rosneft [in recent years]’. Which sounds a bit smug. Let’s hope Exxon Mobil doesn’t end up with Russian oil on its face.

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