Bailiffs raid BP's offices in Moscow
BP has confirmed that bailiffs have raided its offices in Moscow.
The company said their arrival was linked to a case in a regional court in Western Siberia relating to the collapse of BP's Arctic oil exploration deal with Rosneft.
The deal collapsed because of a legal challenge from its Russian partners in the joint venture TNK-BP. The deal has now been done with Exxon Mobil instead.
In a statement, BP said there were "no legitimate grounds for such a raid".
The raid was on the offices of BP EOC, an exploration company, which BP said had no connection with the court case in Tyumen in Siberia.
"If the Tyumen Court decision is allowed to stand, it means any party can raid a company's premises at will and examine all its documents," BP said.
"They are confidential and have no connection with any shareholders' issues."Lost deals
It is unclear why the court executives chose to raid the BP office only a day after the Exxon Mobil - Rosneft deal. It is most likely to be an unfortunate coincidence, which also happens to be a symbolic display of Exxon Mobil's rising fortunes in Russia compared with the failing luck of BP.
Although Prime Minister Putin and his powerful deputy Igor Sechin initially gave their blessing to the Arctic partnership with BP back in January, they, nonetheless refrained from interfering in the subsequent dispute between BP and its Russian partners.
The Russian government is working to improve its image as a business-friendly destination to attract investors into the country with their capital and new technologies. It cannot afford further accusations of interfering in court proceedings or taking sides in a business dispute.
Ultimately, it is up to BP and its Russian partners to try to sort out what went wrong in January, why BP decided to go solo with Rosneft and sideline TNK-BP from the Arctic deal. They also need to decide if they can continue working together and rebuild their mutual trust.
The case was brought by a minority shareholder in TNK-BP, Andrei Prokhorov, who alleges that two BP executives on the TNK-BP board must have known about the secret negotiations between BP and Rosneft.
He claims that the two executives then frustrated TNK-BP's attempts to replace BP in the deal with Rosneft, costing the venture 87bn roubles ($3bn; £1.8bn).
BP's existing Russian partners opposed the BP alliance with Rosneft signed in January, claiming it broke an agreement precluding other Russian oil business deals.
"We do not believe there is any legitimate basis whatsoever for the claim launched against BP in the Tyumen court and we intend to defend our interests vigorously," BP said.
But one of Mr Prokhorov's lawyers told the Interfax news agency that BP had failed to present documents that were needed for the inquiry.
"If the documents are there, they will be confiscated and transferred to the Tyumen arbitration court," he said.
Interfax also said that all staff at the BP office had been told to go home for the day, except top executives and company lawyers.
BP and the Russian billionaires' investment vehicle Alfa Access-Renova (AAR) each own a 50% stake in TNK-BP Ltd.
TNK-BP Ltd, in turn, owns 95% of TNK-BP Holdings, the other 5% of which is held by small, minority shareholders, including Mr Prokhorov.
"It is unclear why the court executives chose to raid the BP office only a day after the Exxon Mobil-Rosneft deal," said Lilit Gevorgyan, Russia analyst at IHS Gloabl Insight.
"It is most likely to be coincidence, which happens to be a symbolic display of the US company's rising fortunes in Russia against the failing luck of the British giant."'Sustained harassment'
BP's management are well versed in the problems of doing business in Russia.
Chief executive Bob Dudley was chief executive of the TNK-BP joint venture for five years until 2008, when he resigned as a result of "sustained harassment".
At the time, the British Embassy in Moscow criticised the way that AAR members had "manipulated elements of the Russian state bureaucracy" in their attempts to get Mr Dudley replaced.
TNK-BP faced lawsuits, visa rows and industrial spying claims.