Sechin Sees Resolution With TNK-BP

ReutersDeputy Prime Minister Sechin and President Medvedev attending a State Council session in Ivanovo on Friday.
Igor Sechin, the deputy prime minister tasked with overseeing the energy sector, said Friday that he saw an end to the debate over TNK-BP, the British-Russian oil firm mired in an acrimonious shareholder dispute.

Also Friday, Moscow prosecutors announced that an investigation into TNK-BP had uncovered two "insignificant" violations of the labor law.

"It seems to me that some moves toward a resolution have begun," Sechin told reporters during a visit to Ivanovo, outside Moscow, Interfax reported.

"At least the two sides have started to talk to one another," he said, without providing further details.

TNK-BP, the country's third-largest oil producer, is half-owned by Britain's BP and half by a consortium of Russian oligarchs known collectively as AAR. A dispute over the company's future ownership structure and strategy exploded into the media last week, with both sides saying dialogue had broken down and accusing the other of trying to wrest control of the 50-50 venture.

Both BP and AAR say they have no interest in diluting their stake in the firm and deny holding negotiations with state-run Rosneft or Gazprom amid market speculation that a state-run energy firm hopes to buy into the company.

Sechin, chairman of Rosneft's board of directors, declined to comment on whether a third party hoped to buy into TNK-BP, Interfax reported.

Rosneft became the country's largest oil company last year after buying up the main assets of bankrupted Yukos. Former Yukos CEO, serving an eight-year sentence on charges of fraud and tax evasion, accused Sechin of orchestrating the legal campaign against him.

Sechin urged the two sides to do more to reach a speedy conclusion. "They need to resolve this more actively, or they will face losses," he said.

In Moscow, prosecutors said they had found labor law violations during an inspection of TNK-BP, which has faced visa problems for nearly 150 BP employees assigned to the firm as the Russian shareholders call for a clampdown on expat hires.

"Today, we completed the inspection of how TNK-BP observes labor and migration laws," said Yury Basov, prosecutor for Moscow's Presnya District, Interfax reported.

"Two insignificant breaches of labor laws were exposed," he said. "The first deals with the registration and circulation of employment records at the company, and the second concerns the granting of vacations," Basov said.

He said prosecutors had sent TNK-BP chief Robert Dudley a letter with suggestions on how to correct the violations.

BP has accused AAR — which groups Mikhail Fridman and German Khan's Alfa Group, Viktor Vekselberg's Renova, and Len Blavatnik's Access Industries — of using corporate-raiding tactics reminiscent of the 1990s in hopes of gaining control over TNK-BP. AAR has denied the accusation.