Four Russian oligarchs, a former German Chancellor and assorted other TNK-BP board members and executives sat twiddling their thumbs in a meeting room in Berlin yesterday after the BP-nominated representatives failed to turn up.
BP says that its four TNK-BP board members requested on Thursday that the meeting to discuss a potential role for the joint venture in BP's $10bn tie-up with Russian rival Rosneft be postponed for a week.
But the rest of the board – including the four billionaires who make up the Alfa-Acces-Renova (AAR) consortium, three independent appointees, one of whom is Gerhard Schröder, and the TNK-BP executive team – nonetheless convened in Berlin as planned.
The abortive meeting is just the latest twist in the saga of BP and Rosneft. AAR launched a legal challenge within weeks of the announcement of the deal – which includes a $5bn share-swap and plans to explore the Arctic South Kara Sea – claiming that the proposal violated the TNK-BP shareholder agreement specifying that all business in Russia be conducted through the joint venture.
A British judge upheld the injunction and formal arbitration is set to conclude next month. But in the meantime, TNK-BP pressed for details of the deal, and an initial board meeting last week agreed the company should press for a slice of the action.
BP downplayed the delay yesterday as simply a reflection of the complexity of the proposal. But sources close to AAR were talking darkly of "disappointment", "delay" and even "sabotage".
"The failure of the BP-nominated directors to show up for the meeting scheduled two weeks ago is disappointing and inconsistent with statements that they always intended to have the Rosneft deal considered by the TNK-BP board and that they want matters resolved quickly," a source close to one of the AAR shareholders said. "Having insisted that the arbitration should be accelerated, BP's actions now suggest they are seeking to delay, or even sabotage, the arbitration process which is due to begin on 7 March in London."
BP denies the allegations, stressing that the move has no impact on the expedited arbitration process. The company has maintained throughout that it is keen to reach an amicable solution as quickly as possible.
The board meeting will now take place next Friday.