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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
BP boss to meet Russian president
BP chief executive Lord John Browne
Lord Browne last met President Putin in 2003
The chief executive of UK oil giant BP, Lord John Browne, is to fly to Russia next week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lord Browne hopes to clarify the rules for foreign investors in its energy sector, reported the Financial Times.

On Monday, TNK-BP, the Russian oil firm jointly owned by BP, was hit with a 26bn rouble (495m; $936m) government demand for back taxes.

TNK-BP recently failed to win rights to develop a major gas field in Siberia.

The company's unsuccessful attempt to win government approval for work in the Kovykta field has raised questions over Moscow's willingness to share Russian oil and gas exports with foreign investors, the FT said.

Tightening control

Planning for Lord Browne's trip to Russia began before Monday's tax demand was issued by federal tax collectors, the FT said.

TNK-BP intends to challenge the tax bill in the courts, the newspaper added. The tax demand is for 2001, before the merger between TNK and BP.

Lord Browne and President Putin last met in 2003.

The Russian leader supported a $7bn deal to set up TNK-BP, which is currently the country's second biggest oil producer.

However, since then Mr Putin's government has tightened its influence and control over many of Russia's main industries, including the key oil and gas sector.

Last year, oil producer Yukos was broken up after being hit with a bill for unpaid taxes of $27.5bn. Critics said the government's action against Yukos and some of its largest shareholders was politically motivated.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Yukos' former boss, is currently awaiting a judge's verdict on multiple charges of fraud and tax evasion. If found guilty, he could be jailed for up to 10 years.

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