Injunction Blocks BP Employees

BP's Russian venture TNK-BP said Tuesday that court action by a small Moscow brokerage had stopped it using key specialist staff, the latest problem to hit the company as a struggle rages over its ownership.

In recent months, TNK-BP has been raided by the Federal Security Service, had an employee arrested for alleged espionage, had secondees' visas declared invalid and been hit with a tax claim.

In the latest twist, a TNK-BP spokesman said brokerage Tetlis had claimed in a Siberian court that TNK-BP's service agreement governing the use of BP specialists was improper. Tetlis alleged that it constituted a special dividend to one shareholder and disadvantaged others, he added.

The Tyumen Arbitration Court issued an injunction to TNK-BP to halt activities under that agreement and stop making payments. It will hear the Tetlis claim May 20.

"Both the claim and the injunction we don't believe have any solid legal basis, and we will be continuing to pursue our legal options," the TNK-BP spokesman said.

BP and four Russian billionaires share 50-50 control of unlisted TNK-BP, which in turn owns 95 percent of listed TNK-BP with a 5 percent free float.

As a result of the injunction, all 148 BP secondees had been barred from working at TNK-BP since May 5, the company said. An initial attempt by TNK-BP to overturn the injunction was rejected by the court, TNK-BP added.