Page last updated at 08:12 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 09:12 UK

BP Russia boss 'should quit job'

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The chairman of BP-TNK Mikhail Friedman speaks to Stephen Evans about why he has accused BP of "Goebbels propaganda."

The Russian chairman of BP's joint venture, TNK-BP, has called on the firm's chief executive to step down.

Speaking to the BBC, billionaire Mikhail Fridman said that Robert Dudley was concerned only with BP's interests and this was "unacceptable".

But he denied that the actions of the Russian police, who pulled in Mr Dudley for questioning, were anything more than "routine practice" in Russia.

BP said it had full confidence in Mr Dudley as chief executive of TNK-BP.

It said Mr Dudley had been appointed by the whole board and represented the interests of all shareholders.

Western oil companies are keen to gain access to Russia's vast oil and gas reserves, but there have been increasing fears that the government is trying to wrest control of these assets from their foreign owners.

TNK-BP, formed in 2003, is Russia's third-biggest oil producer and accounts for a quarter of BP's worldwide oil production.

'Untruthful propaganda'

Over the past few months, BP's Moscow offices and those of joint venture TNK-BP have been raided by Russian security services.

This has come amid escalating tensions between BP and its Russian partners in TNK-BP, including Mr Fridman, over its management structure and strategy, which have been interpreted by some as an ownership battle.

But Mr Fridman said he was confident that the Kremlin was not trying to force BP out of Russia.

Mr Fridman recently came under fire for likening BP chairman Peter Sutherland to Nazi Germany's propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels.

But he told the BBC that his words had been taken out of context and he had in fact been referring to comments made by Mr Sutherland, who had likened the Russian shareholder's behaviour to the corporate raiding activities of the 1990s.

"What he said has nothing to do with reality. It is based on untruthful propaganda, which we call in Russia "Goebbels propaganda"," Mr Fridman said.

'Independent management'

What the Russian shareholder group, AAR, would like to see, he said, were independent directors appointed to the board to be able to help resolve tensions between the two sides, as well as independent management running the company.

Having a BP man run the firm, he said, "was not positive for the development of the company".

Calling for Mr Dudley's resignation, he added: "Fifty per cent [of] shareholders don't trust him and I, as chairman, ask him to step down from his position.

"Any other candidate that is distant from us, with experience of how to work in Russia... we will support this person and try to make his job much more well-managed and appropriately described from the point of view of legal power.

"This will help to improve our governance system and will be better for us, BP, the Russian authorities and the West's public opinion about foreign investment in Russia."


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