MOSCOW (AP) — British oil giant BP said Friday it could sell its 50 percent stake in its Russian joint venture TNK-BP.
TNK-BP, Russia’s third-largest oil producer, is a joint venture between BP and AAR, a consortium of Russian billionaire shareholders. The company has been mired in a corporate dispute after AAR blocked a BP’s deal with Russian oil company Rosneft.
BP said in a statement Friday that it has received “unsolicited indications of interest” for its share in TNK-BP and is looking to pursue a potential sale which is “consistent with BP’s commitment to maximizing shareholder value.”
BP’s spokesman in Russia, Vladimir Buyanov, told The Associated Press that the information about the potential buyer is confidential. He declined to specify whether the offer might have come from the Russian shareholders. Buyanov said the shareholders’ agreement between BP and AAR requires both parties to notify the other of offers to acquire their holdings.
BP, however, stressed that “there can be no guarantee that any transaction will take place.”
AAR has previously indicated that it could be interested in raising its stake in TNK-BP. AAR’s spokesman in Moscow declined to comment any aspect of BP’s announcement.
TNK-BP’s CEO Mikhail Fridman, one of the members of AAR, unexpectedly stepped down on Monday.
In an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant he cited tensions between the shareholders as a reason for his departure and said the parity ownership of TNK-BP no longer works.
Fridman said in the interview that AAR could be interested in increasing its stake, but it would also consider selling some of its stake in exchange for BP shares.
Although one of Russia’s most lucrative oil assets, TNK-BP has been mired in boardroom dispute for much of its time since it was founded in 2003. At the height of the previous shareholder conflict in 2008, TNK-BP’s CEO Robert Dudley was virtually forced out from Russia. Dudley, a BP nominee, complained of what he described as a campaign of “harassment.” Fridman’s appointment as interim CEO in 2009 and a new shareholder agreement helped reconcile the two rival groups of shareholders.
But tensions resurfaced last year when a potentially huge deal that BP was hoping to sign with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft broke down after AAR blocked it. Russian shareholders claimed that such a deal should be pursued through TNK-BP.
But the venture has provided lofty dividends for both parties. Over the past years, TNK-BP’s output has accounted for more than a quarter of BP’s total global production.
TNK-BP’s shares at Moscow’s MICEX stock exchange were 1 percent up in morning trading on Friday.
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