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Russia partners say BP legal suit “bullying”

The Russian partners in BP’s TNK-BP joint venture accused the oil major of “bullying tactics” on Sunday after BP said it is suing them for 8.5 billion rubles ($362 million).

The AAR consortium, which represents the four Russian-connected billionaires who own half of TNK-BP, said the BP legal suit was “grossly inflated" and will be vigorously defended, in a statement released in Moscow on Sunday night. BP’s legal action in London, announced on Saturday, comes on top of other problems at TNK-BP, whose owners are locked in a dispute over the firm’s strategy and management control.

“AAR considers the claim as another example of BP’s bullying tactics and an attempt by BP to deflect the focus away from its mismanagement of TNK-BP,” said Stan Polovets, the chief executive of AAR. Access Industries, Alfa Group, and Renova Group are collectively known as the AAR consortium, which represents the interests of the Russian billionaires -- Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg and Len Blavatnik. “We are very surprised that instead of trying to resolve this matter through dialogue, BP has turned to British courts with a claim that is grossly inflated,” said Polovets. “BP’s lack of willingness to treat us as equal partners and constructively deal with the differences between the shareholders is one of the main reasons behind the current tensions,” said Povolets. TNK-BP has had to pay over $2 billion in back-tax claims over the past few years, with some of them relating to the period prior to 2003, before the venture was set up.

BP has already turned down a demand by the Russian shareholders for TNK-BP CEO Robert Dudley to resign and the Russian co-owners have said they would seek other legal means to limit BP’s influence on the company. Mounting state pressure on the firm over recent months, including back tax claims, office raids and the arrest of an employee on espionage charges, are signs that the Kremlin is putting pressure on either BP or the Russian billionaires to sell out to a state-controlled company, analysts say. (Reuters)