Some TNK-BP owners object to BP’s plans in Russia

Russian billionaire owners in TNK-BP asked a London court to halt a share swap and Arctic exploration deal between BP and Rosneft, claiming exclusive rights to pursue business in Russia with the British-based oil producer.

The shareholders, represented by a group called AAR, are demanding BP present the deal to TNK-BP because the 50-50 venture has exclusive rights to pursue opportunities on behalf of the London-based company, according to a copy of the filing.

The move may raise concern over a renewed dispute between TNK-BP’s shareholders. In 2008, current BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley was ousted as head of TNK-BP as the billionaires and BP argued over strategy. The Russian oil producer accounts for about a quarter of BP’s output and a fifth of reserves. Dudley met with TNK-BP shareholder and interim CEO Mikhail Fridman on Jan. 13, the day before signing the Rosneft deal.

“BP appears to have closed its eyes to its obligations to TNK-BP,” according to a witness statement in the filing in a commercial court. The billionaires are seeking to keep BP from “taking any steps to negotiate, agree, conclude, implement or perform any agreement” on the deals with Rosneft.

A hearing is set for Tuesday, according to the filing.

Vladimir Buyanov, a BP Russia spokesman, said the company had received a filing in a London court. He declined to give details and said BP is acting within the bounds of its shareholder agreement with TNK-BP.

Stan Polovets, chief executive officer of AAR, declined to comment.

Damages aren’t enough for the shareholders, according to the filing. They see BP’s alliance with Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer, as eroding TNK-BP’s competitive advantage and its value. TNK-BP will face more competition for projects and may lose BP expertise and managers, the filing said.

The shareholders may seek a role in the Arctic venture. The BP, Rosneft deal could be good for TNK-BP, as well as BP, Rosneft, and Russia, Polovets said last week.

BP agreed on Jan. 14 to swap a $7.8 billion stake in the company for 9.5 percent of Rosneft. The two also agreed to explore an area of Russia’s Arctic waters about the size of Great Britain’s North Sea. The swap will give BP a large enough stake to claim a board seat and call meetings.