Dudley Told He Can Work for Now

ReutersDudley addressing a news conference Thursday. A TNK-BP source said Dudley was working Monday "just like normal."
The Federal Migration Service and TNK-BP CEO Robert Dudley on Monday agreed that he could continue working while he sorts through disagreements over the company's leadership and strategy with its billionaire shareholders.

Despite conflicting media reports, Irina Boronina, a spokeswoman for the Federal Migration Service, said Dudley was allowed to work under the 10-day transit visa that he was issued with Friday. The transit visa will expire Sunday.

A source inside TNK-BP confirmed that Dudley was at work on Monday "just like normal."

"On Friday when accepting a visa, I asked the question three times if I could work until the 27th and was told yes," Dudley said Monday in an e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times.

Dudley's right to work in Russia came into question after his work visa expired Saturday. The migration service said it could not renew the work visa without a valid employment contract.

AAR, the Russian billionaires consortium that collectively controls 50 percent of TNK-BP, claims that Dudley's work contract expired at the end of last year and was not renewed.

BP and Dudley argue that his employment contract was implicitly renewed when the board of directors voted 3-2 earlier this year to let him keep his position.

Viktor Vekselberg, one of the AAR shareholders, wrote last week to the migration service to initiate termination of Dudley's employment contract, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Moscow Times. The letter implied that the work contract was still valid.

Yevgeny Reyzman, a partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie, said both sides had presented strong legal arguments and that it was unlikely the issue would be decided by the end of the week.

"This is a very deep and tense corporate conflict," Reyzman said. "What comes next, no one knows."

The conflict is not about legal issues, but rather about the company's leadership, Reyzman said. "This is a dispute between two groups of shareholders over how to develop the company. … Since they cannot come to an agreement, one group of shareholders has to use other means, which include using the arguments of labor law," he said.

While the transit visa itself does not allow Dudley to work, his work permit does, said Boronina, the migration service spokeswoman. Dudley, along with seven other foreign TNK-BP employees, received a work permit in early July.

"This transit visa was given so that he can settle his work relationships," Boronina said.

The service has said it may renew the transit visa again, Dudley and the service said.

Reyzman said the parties could be forced to go to court, which is "the only agency which cannot abstain from making a decision."

Roland Nash, chief strategist at Renaissance Capital, said the dispute could hurt investment in the short term, but not over the long term.

"At the moment, because of what is going on globally, investors are very risk-averse and any negative news flow is amplified," Nash said, adding that what was going on at TNK-BP "only confirms the sort of prejudice people have about investing in Russia.

"The opportunities in Russia are so vast … people will always be interested," he said. "We've seen much worse than this with Yukos, for example, and people still come back."