Migration Service Says BP Not Targeted

The Federal Migration Service said Wednesday that it was not conducting a concerted effort against British energy giant BP, which recalled scores of employees this week from its Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.

The comments came after the Interior Ministry said late Tuesday that it was probing investigating tax evasion worth over $40 million involving Sidanco, an oil unit that TNK-BP liquidated in 2005 after merging it with other assets during a consolidation.

"The investigative department of the ministry has opened a criminal investigation against Sidanco according to the article 199 of the Criminal Code, part 2 -- large-scale tax evasion," said Angela Kastuyeva, spokeswoman for the department.

She said the sum involved was over 1 billion rubles ($42.2 million).

TNK-BP said Tuesday that 148 employees were being recalled because of a "lack of clarity over their current visa status." The decision followed a raid on the company's offices and the announcement that an employee had been charged with industrial espionage.

"There have been and will be no special actions against this company," Federal Migration Service spokesman Konstantin Poltoranin said. "There is no problem at all."

Poltoranin said the company had tried to obtain work permits for employees without having them leave the country, which he said was required by law. He said employees would have no problems receiving their visas if they observe all legal procedures.

TNK-BP's other unit, Slavneft, which is co-owned by state gas firm Gazprom, is facing a separate tax evasion probe.

n Oleg Deripaska's holding company, Basic Element, which is seeking to take control of midsized oil company Russneft, on Wednesday dismissed speculation that it was involved in the TNK-BP affair.

"Speculation that Basic Element may in any way be interested in having the government investigate TNK-BP for whatever reasons is completely baseless and absurd," public relations director Konstantin Panin said.