Oligarch says will sell to BP at right price
My colleague Tanya Beckett has conducted a rare and fascinating interview with Viktor Vekselberg, one of the billionaire oligarchs who co-own TNK-BP with BP - and who have fallen out with BP over BP's desire to form a business relationship with Rosneft, Russia's largest energy group, which would involve BP and Rosneft taking stakes in each other.
Because of the tensions that have arisen with AAR, the group that represents the oligarchs, BP in collaboration with Rosneft would dearly love to buy AAR's half share in TNK-BP. But their offer of $27bn for 50% of TNK-BP, which values the whole of TNK-BP at $54bn, was rejected earlier this month.
All may not be lost for BP, however. Mr Vekselberg suggests that a sale is possible. He tells Tanya Beckett:
"Of course it can be happen, for sure. If it will be [an] interesting proposal for us according to our understanding of (the) valuation of this company, of course we can accept. So far we have not received this."
So what would be an "interesting" valuation of TNK-BP? Well those close to the oligarchs say that they value TNK-BP at more than $70bn.
It's not clear BP and Rosneft are prepared to pay as much that. The difficulty for BP is that if it fails to reach an accommodation with Mr Vekselberg and his colleagues on price, then it will be stuck in a difficult place - because BP will have been publicly humiliated by the failure to consummate the Rosneft deal and will somehow have to rebuild relations with AAR in order to continue to extract billions of dollars in dividends from TNK-BP.
BP's partnership with AAR is in tatters, as Mr Vekselberg makes clear, in emotive terms, because of AAR's conviction, upheld in arbitration proceedings, that BP's proposed deal with Rosneft breached its contract with AAR:
"The picture is really simple. TNK-BP was created eight years ago, 2003. It was created like [a] joint venture between Russian shareholders and BP, huge global player... The company grew very active; it's now one of the best companies - not just Russian but internationally, because we have investment outside Russia...
And really I personally was surprised, I was surprised why BP decided to do something which [was] not according to our shareholders agreement. I am not surprised why BP would like to do this but I am surprised why they did it without any consulting or even just like, just inform us about that (sic). I was very upset, I am still upset even now".
Mr Vekselberg says he is "not so interested in money". The billionaire
adds: "I have enough money, for my life, for my family, for all that".
But "we are businessmen, we are not ideological or something", so of course a sale to BP and Rosneft "can happen".
So what would occur if BP and Rosneft were to make him several billion dollars richer? "I am already very upset" he says "but I will [be] double upset if I have to decide to sell. It's because I dedicated for this company almost like 15 years".
These remarks by Mr Vekselberg are a sign that the impasse over the purchase by BP and Rosneft of AAR's stake in TNK-BP can be overcome.
It offers hope to BP, perhaps for the first time, that it may be able to buy AAR out of the joint venture by the time of the May 16 extended deadline set by Rosneft.
But here's the question? Is the price that Mr Vekselberg and his fellow billionaires will accept one that BP's owners will see as acceptable?
Some of them are already dubious about the terms of the new partnership it wants to form with Rosneft. At a time when BP remains financially stretched by the costs of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP's shareholders won't want it to further enrich Mr Vekselberg more than is strictly necessary.
For more on the Vekselberg interview, see Russia Business Report.