TNK-BP Field Investigation Extended

bloombergA pipeline at TNK-BP's Samotlor oil field in the Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district, which is being investigated.
The Natural Resources Ministry has extended by one month its investigation into TNK-BP's largest oil field, a senior official said Tuesday, keeping up pressure against the embattled Russian-British oil firm.

"The investigation has been extended," said Oleg Mitvol, deputy head of the ministry's environmental watchdog and the official overseeing the investigation. "We should know the results within one month, that is, by May 20," he said by telephone.

"Poor weather conditions did not allow the investigation to go forward," he said, adding that the sites due to be examined at the Samotlor field in West Siberia two weeks ago were still covered in snow.

Mitvol, who headed a sustained campaign against Shell at Sakhalin-2 before the firm sold a majority stake to Gazprom, announced the move against TNK-BP on March 21, one day after the Federal Security Service revealed it had charged a TNK-BP employee with industrial espionage.

Also Tuesday, the Interior Ministry's economic crimes unit said it was not involved in any criminal cases regarding TNK-BP.

Confusion has surrounded an early March raid of the Moscow offices of TNK-BP and British oil major BP, which owns 50 percent of the company. The other half is owned by Russian oligarchs Viktor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman, German Khan and Len Blavatnik.

The economic crimes unit said on the day of the raid that it had questioned two TNK-BP managers but on Tuesday distanced itself from those remarks and said control of the raid lay with the Federal Security Service.

"We do not yet have any complaints against that company," said Andrei Filipchuk, the unit's spokesman. "The investigation is currently being performed by the FSB and it is not yet clear what laws were broken," he said.

The swirl of activity at TNK-BP, including visa issues for foreign employees that arose last month, masks an internal struggle among shareholders over when and for how much to sell part of the firm to state-owned Gazprom, sources have said.

Vekselberg, head of the firm's gas business, said in January that he would consider selling his stake if his $60 billion valuation was met. Fridman and Khan, who own a stake in TNK-BP through Alfa Group, are believed to be pushing for a quicker deal that would more likely value the firm closer to its current market capitalization of $31 billion.

TNK-BP maintains that its Russian shareholders have no wish to sell, and Gazprom denies that it is in negotiations to buy into the country's fourth-largest oil firm.

TNK-BP spokeswoman Marina Dracheva could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The FSB has made no further statements about the case against TNK-BP employee Ilya Zaslavsky and his brother Alexander, an independent energy consultant who heads the British Council's Alumni Club. The Oxford-educated brothers hold dual U.S. and Russian citizenship. The FSB charged the brothers with industrial espionage in mid-March.

Staff Writer Nikolaus von Twickel contributed to this report.