[EUROASIA] British CEO of TNK-BP dealing with visa trouble

TNK-BP CEO Robert Dudley's ability to remain in Russia appeared in doubt today after migration authorities demanded a copy of a new contract before giving him a new visa.

The U.S. executive has been the focus of a struggle for control over the oil company, which is owned jointly by Britain's BP PLC and a group of Russian billionaires.

Dudley had been promised a new visa when his expires later this month. But the Russian Federal Migration Service now claims that his current labor contract has expired, and that it will not give him a new visa without a valid contract.

The Russian shareholders have called for the dismissal of BP-backed Dudley, claiming that he has mismanaged the firm and represents the interests of the British oil company. Dudley's departure would leave the Russian owners in charge of the company.

TNK-BP has been rocked by a series of assaults on the company, including tax and labor probes, and the authorities held up the issue of new work permits for foreign employees, prompting concerns at BP that many of its workers would be forced to leave Russia. Earlier this month, the migration service promised to deliver most of the required permits.

Dudley's contract formally expired at the end of last year, said the authorities. They added that his current visa is due to expire on July 19, but he may receive a temporary extension if the submitted contract is considered valid.

"We want TNK-BP to confirm that he has a work contract for 2008-2009," said Konstantin Poltarinin, a spokesman for the migration service, adding that the company has 20 days from the date of application to provide the contract.

A TNK-BP spokeswoman said the company had stamped and accepted all of Dudley's documents, including the existing contract, when submitted last week.

Analysts have speculated that TNK-BP's woes have been orchestrated by the Russian shareholders, made up of Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, Len Blavatnik's Access Group and Viktor Vekselberg's Renova, collectively known as AAR. The Russians have denied the claims.

Vekselberg, as chairman of TNK-Management, is the only person authorized to extend Dudley's employment contract, AAR said, according to the Financial Times. AAR declined to comment today. Earlier this week, TNK-BP was hit with new demands for information on its foreign employees, including pay slips, work contracts and copies of expenses.

But there was some relief for the company, which later said it had received permits for 48 of its staff. Up to 31 expatriate workers could still be forced to leave by the end of July. The migration authorities are considering a further 14 applications.

In a separate case, TNK-BP won a small victory this week after a Siberian court overturned an injunction barring it from using 148 foreign specialists at its oil fields. The suit was brought by an obscure minority shareholder called Tetlis, two of whose managers worked for companies close to Alfa Group in the 1990s. The Russian shareholders have denied any link.

Source: Associated Press

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