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RUSSIA

BP to Sue AAR in London

BP said Saturday that it was suing its partners in TNK-BP in London for 8.4 billion rubles ($365 million), money it believes should not have been paid out as back tax claims in Russia.

The move comes on top of other problems at TNK-BP, a 50-50 joint venture whose owners, BP and four Russian billionaires, are locked in a dispute over strategy and management control.

"It relates to our initial shareholder agreement signed in 2003, which said all back tax claims prior to the creation of the TNK-BP venture must be paid by the Russians," said Vladimir Buyanov, BP's Moscow-based spokesman. "It has nothing to do with the current dispute."

TNK-BP has had to pay more than $2 billion in back tax claims over the past few years, with some claims relating to the period prior to 2003, before the current venture was created.

BP has already turned down a demand by the Russian shareholders -- known as AAR after Mikhail Fridman and German Khan's Alfa Bank, Len Blavatnik's Access Industries and Viktor Vekselberg's Renova Group -- for TNK-BP chief executive Robert Dudley to resign. AAR has said it will seek other legal means to limit BP's influence on the company.

Mounting state pressure on the firm in recent months, including tax claims, office raids and the arrest of an employee on espionage charges, are signs that the Kremlin is pushing either BP or AAR to sell out to a state-controlled company, analysts say.

(The Moscow Times 7.vii.08)

 
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