The executive infighting threatening to cripple BP's Russian subsidiary took a turn for the worse when one of its directors abruptly resigned in the wake of calls by the several top shareholders for the ousting of its chief executive.
Jean-Luc Vermeulen, a former Total executive, is understood to have resigned after it became clear that he would be unable to defuse a worsening row between BP and the trio of Russian oligarchs with whom it shares ownership of one of Europe's largest private companies.
TNK-BP cancelled a board meeting in Cyprus on Thursday after BP refused to countenance a motion by the investors' group AlfaAccessRenova (AAR) for the removal of Robert Dudley, the BP executive who has run the company since it was formed in 2003. AAR said that Mr Dudley, "should resign his position due to AAR's belief that [he] is managing the company in the interest of only one shareholder, namely BP". AAR owns 50 per cent of TNK-BP and is controlled by the oligarchs Viktor Vekselberg, Mikhail Fridman and Len Blavatnik, who had handpicked Mr Vermeulen for the board.
The attempted putsch is seen as an attempt by AAR to increase its influence at TNK-BP amid speculation that either BP or its oligarch partners could be bullied into selling a stake to the Russian state. TNK-BP's offices have been raided twice by Russian authorities in the past two months, while 148 BP executive and specialists has been prohibited by a Siberian court from returning to work. TNK-BP accounts for a quarter of BP's global production.