BP has announced that it will stop investing in joint projects with Skolkovo. That way the British got back at the Russian shareholders of TNK-BP. After all, it is Viktor Vekselberg, the co-owner of TNK-BP, who heads Skolkovo. This is one of the stages of a long-lasting economic war between the Russians and the British that has been in place for several years now and still does not seem to ever come to an end.
Rumafia.com correspondents talked with a number of people actively involved in these battles and found out many underhanded secrets. For instance, how the company wanted British shareholders to spy for it; how German Khan, co-owner of TNK-BP, participated in a showdown with St. Petersburg gangsters; how the company was blackmailed by Anatoly Kucherena and Oleg Mitvol; and what is it that the British now want from the Russian shareholders.
The army of Khan
Vice president and co-owner of TNK-BP German Khan is one of the key figures. In the1990s he faced a difficult choice of whether to become an influential kingpin or a legit businessman. For a long time Khan was somewhere in the middle. Even now he sometimes is reminded of his gangster past.
Several years ago TNK-BP had a conflict with a number of firms over networks of filling stations in Saint Petersburg. The issue was not at the level of Khan. But he found that these firms were controlled by St. Petersburg gangsters, whom he had known since the “wild nineties”. Accompanied by lawyers and security officers, TNK-BP's vice-president went to St. Petersburg.
When the delegation entered the meeting room, they saw a group of men whose faces pointed to their serious attitude to the issue. One of the gang leaders whom Khan had known since the 1990s, asked: "Shall we sort out the issue as businessmen do or by the rules of the underworld?". Khan chose the first option, but rules of the underworld still made their way into the process of solving the problem. As a result the conflict was settled.
German Khan considers TNK that is now part of TNK-BP to be his favourite child. He is used to having all the levers of the company's management in his hands and is trying to carefully protect his turf. He fully controls all legal issues monitored by the vice-president Igor Maydannik and Security Service supervised by the vice-president Boris Kondrashov, who is also a unique person who can solve problems with several agencies at once. At some point of time he was deputy head of Moscow police, a people's deputy, and Deputy Minister of Justice - Chief bailiff of Russia.
At the beginning of the conflict with the British, TNK-BP Security Service had three powerful factions of security officials. The largest, about 20 people, consisted of former Interior Ministry Investigative Committee officers. Its leader was Sergei Novoselov, a vice president, director of TNK-BP information, planning and control department. He used to be first deputy chief of the Investigative Committee. He had a significant group of former Investigative Committee employees work for TNK-BP. Among them are Vasily Zimarin who supervised the case against swindler Zagrebelny, the case of embezzlement in SBS-Agro bank, the case on the Chechen remittance advice; General Ivan Popov, former head of organizational department and deputy head of the Investigative Committee; Andrei Goncharov, a former department head in the Investigative Committee; Vasily Kholodov who investigated drug trafficking cases; Denis Podchasov who supervised cases investigating money thefts from Ingosstrakh, Avtobank, and businessman Andreyev; the investigator Sergei Khazov, etc.
Novoselov’s group was in charge of solving any issues arising from a police investigation and law enforcement in general. It was the Investigative Committee former officials who at some point of time successfully stalled the investigation of tax-dodging by TNK, Sidanko, and other related entities. The amount due was about 25 billion rubles. The investigation was conducted by the Ministry of the Interior department in Central Federal District. Novoselov solved the issue through giving a $ 7 million bribe. But before the investigation was frozen, the Russians badly battered the nerves of British shareholders.
Two other groups in TNK-BP Security Service were former employees of Prosecutor General's Office and the Ministry of Justice. A Rumafia source drew special attention to several people. Evgeny Shirokov served in the prosecutor's office for nearly 20 years. His last post was that of the head of department for supervision over the implementation of tax laws. In the early 2000s he joined the Ministry of Justice as bailiff department deputy head. In 2003 he joined TNK, and then the Department of Economic Security at TNK-BP. Shirokov is a board member in Chernogorneft and TNK-Ugra.
Nikolai Galanin is thought to be his closest friend in TNK-BP. Galanin was head of the Investigation Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office and then first deputy head of the bailiffs department. In this position Galanin solved the problem of SBS-Agro investors. Then he worked for Sidanko and then at the Department of Economic Security with TNK-BP. Currently, Galanin is a board member of oil refineries in Saratov and Ryazan.
Mikhail Gorodov, head of TNK-BP Management Department of Economic Security, served as Lyubertsy city prosecutor for eight years. According to our source, Gorodov developed friendly relationship with the prosecutors of different ranks. In particular, he made friends with Vladimir Lyseyko, the former chief investigator. TNK-BP hired him to develop connections with the prosecution, since Security Service was noticeably short of such connections. Gorodov coped well with solving problems at the regional level, including criminal cases and various probes by the prosecution. In 2007 he became a TNK-BP representative on the boards of directors in Samotlorneft and Priobneft.
In turn, these two groups within TNK-BP were in charge of coordinating work with various state agencies and officials including prosecutors, courts, bailiffs, etc. German Khan personally dealt with counterintelligence. Russian shareholders of the company are monitored by the FSB, officers of which are on good terms with Khan. Our source explained that such cooperation had been in place for a long time, and both the mentioned government agency and German Khan bitterly hate British shareholders of TNK-BP.
Back in 2004 they raised questions about work permits for foreign managers in Russian companies and about limiting access to information on British strategic reserves of natural resources. It happened exactly when Aleksandr Bortnikov came to the Department of Economic Security. Later he headed the Federal Security Service. According to the source, as long as Bortnikov heads the FSB, the Russian shareholders will have no problems with that agency.
But in 2004 British shareholders decided not to fight. The war began in 2008.
British Go Home
The main emphasis of Russian shareholders was on pressing Robert Dudley, the CEO, and the majority of British executives to leave TNK-BP. Khan was very pleased with the chosen plan of the war and was a complete winner in the situation. All documents necessary for the confrontation were developed under the supervision of Igor Maydannik, executive vice president of TNK-BP. As a result, Tetlis CJSC, a minority shareholder, filed a suit against TNK-BP and BP demanding termination of the contracts with 148 seconded staff, all of them being citizens of the United Kingdom. According to sources in the company, they have long ago worked out a clear mechanism as to filing claims by minority shareholders. The mechanism required excellent relations with different courts of arbitration, particularly in Tyumen region, that TNK-BP had. The lawsuit by Tetlis was a warning to the British, but they would not understand.
Then Maydannik prepared for Federal Migration Service (FMS) an application to hire foreign employees of TNK-BP, where the quota was reduced to 63 people. However, there was no intention to have all 63 stay. According to a Rumafia source, Maydannik almost personally explained to the representatives of the FMS that foreign employees had irregularities in their visa documents because they had business visas instead of foreign worker visas. Therefore, they could not work at TNK-BP and the quota can not apply to the situation.
Meanwhile, Moscow Labour Inspectorate handed certain material over to Moscow prosecutors. The materials stated violations of labour legislation by TNK-BP top management. The documents were forwarded to Presnenskaya prosecutor's office, which began an inquiry and summoned Dudley for questioning. As a result, it was revealed that all foreign employees of TNK-BP violated labour laws. They began to leave Russia.
Dudley tried to resist and to solve the issue in courts of arbitration, but to no avail. In private, he confessed that he was well aware that Khan and Maydannik were behind all those problems. He said that "they use the methods of the nineties, against which we are powerless." Dudley was furious about the "dirty tricks" of Khan. He even mentioned that he could not stand the man. The dislike was mutual.
TNK-BP Security Service employees who used to work at the Ministry of the Interior organized questioning by police investigators for Dudley. TNK was suspected of tax evasion, with the amount due reaching 22.5 billion rubles in the period 2001-2003. At that time TNK president was Simon Kukes, and Robert Dudley became president with the establishment of TNK-BP. It happened in 2003, that is, formally at the time of tax evasion by the company. This fact gave grounds for summoning Dudley for questioning that lasted for over seven hours.
However, the threat to be accused did not frighten him. Then Security Service brought about more problems for Dudley, namely those in obtaining visas. The employment contract with TNK-BP had a provision saying that if Mr Dudley does not terminate the contract two weeks in advance to its termination period, which was the end of 2007, the contract is automatically extended for an indefinite period. When the contract was sent to the FMS for Dudley to obtain a work visa, it had to be filed together with other documents explaining all the conditions including the automatic renewal for an indefinite period. But the corresponding documents never got to the FMS, and that was on purpose. The Migration Service had a contract that had expired. Accordingly, Dudley could not get a work visa. Moreover, the FMS received a letter from Victor Vekselberg, in which he reported that he could not present a new contract with Dudley because they did not sign one.
Dudley did receive a visa, although it took some efforts. However, he was no longer the CEO. The last straw was the story about espionage.
Shareholders or spies
Foreigner and Russian employees of TNK-BP, who joined the company under the patronage of the British, were under constant supervision by the company’s Security Service. The service collected dirt on them. In particular, the Security Service found out that Ilya Zaslavsky, the British appointee and TNK-BP Management employee, dealt in selling secret information, predominantly to British top managers. Before the conflict Security Service turned a blind eye on such business because classified information concerned Gazprom, but not TNK-BP. However, after the escalation of the conflict Khan needed a headline-making case which would cast a shadow upon all representatives of BP.
TNK-BP Security Service received a paper from Gazprom Security Service on Zaslavsky. Materials came in very handy for TNK-BP and were handed over to the Federal Security Service. The officers caught Ilya and his brother Aleksandr when the two were trying to purchase a new portion of classified information about Gazprom.
TNK-BP Security Service had a task to have the story covered in the media to the maximum. At first FSB was against it. They even considered a possibility of TNK-BP Security Service making a statement to the media on exposure of industrial espionage in favour of British shareholders. But then they decided not to issue such a statement. In the end, FSB Press Service made a little comment about the exposed espionage, without mentioning the British in the press release.
At first Ilya Zaslavsky decided to be a hero and denied being guilty. Then they explained to him that if he did not cooperate, he might face charges of espionage against the state rather than industrial espionage that he was accused of then, because some of the documents were classified meaning the minimum sentence would be ten years of imprisonment. And Zaslavsky began giving testimony.
As a result of these conversations, the FSB asked six UK top managers of TNK-BP to leave the country. Other foreigners led by Robert Dudley became noticeably less vigorous.
After Dudley was expelled from TNK-BP, BP vice president David Peattie personally took to settling the conflict. For the period of settling disputes Britain's Tim Summers was appointed as interim CEO. The Russian shareholders, especially Viktor Vekselberg, quickly found ways to manipulate and Summers fell under full control of the Russians. BP once again got itself cornered.
"Summers completely satisfied Friedman, Vekselberg, and Khan as the CEO. And since he was from BP, the British could find no arguments to replace him," said a Rumafia source. However, BP quickly realized that there was a traitor among the staff and flatly refused to have Summers appointed as CEO on a permanent basis. The question of who will fill this position is still hanging in the air and has not been resolved so far, which is beneficial for the Russian shareholders. By the way, after leaving TNK-BP, Summers took up a job at an enterprise of Viktor Vekselberg.
CEO at the beck and call
There were several candidates to fill the position of CEO, until Russian and British shareholders have not agreed on Maksim Barsky. However, he was also made interim CEO. Barsky stands little chance to hold the post on a permanent basis. Mikhail Friedman sees Barsky as an "ordinary executive," gives him orders and does not trust to act on his own in any major issues.
As an example, our source spoke of President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Algeria in October 2010, where he was accompanied by Friedman, Khan, and Barsky. TNK-BP considered purchasing BP shares in a number of gas-oil projects. Barsky only took part in the official event, namely in the expanded meeting of Heads of State, officials, and local businessmen. Then came the most important part - personal conversations. It was Khan and Friedman who discussed all the issues with Foreign Minister Lavrov and President's Special Representative Prikhodko. Barsky was not even in the same room during these discussions.
The same happened during talks with Algerian representatives. Friedman invited Barsky to join the discussion only when it came to discussing some technical issues. Our source said the situation repeated in other negotiations. All key issues are decided by Friedman and Khan, sometimes also by Vekselberg, and Barsky takes part in talks only at the stage of technical realization. It was embarrassing when a delegate in Algeria asked Khan "Who is that boy that came with you?" and pointed at Barsky.
"Russian shareholders treat him only as a subordinate. When talking about him Khan repeatedly used the phrase “it is out of his reach", said a TNK-BP insider. The source described Barsky as "technically a subordinate to Friedman and Khan." At the same time TNK-BP managers call Barsky an extremely arrogant, unsociable, impudent person. "He speaks rudely with his subordinates, and treats everyone with disdain."
Over time, Barsky’s arrogance and insolence to his subordinates grew into superiority complex. According to our source, his high self-esteem resulted from the fact that his nomination was agreed upon by all shareholders of TNK-BP, and no one wanted to replace him. First he began arguing with Khan, then with Friedman. At the end of 2010 Barsky demanded higher bonuses for the year. He began to choose negotiations that deserved his participation.
In December 2010 he refused to travel to India with Dmitry Medvedev. Barsky said that he had other plans. As a result Veskelberg had to cover for him, although Veskelberg had been going to accompany the President during this visit anyway.
Barsky made new appointments to subsidiaries of TNK-BP, which outraged Friedman. Our source said that the Russian shareholders took measures for Barsky to better understand his position. "They told Barsky what role they assigned to him in the company and that if he did not understand this, he had to leave”, said the source. According to our source, after that conversation Barsky pulled in his horns. All throughout 2011 he tried to stay down. He sprang up only when it came to raising bonuses.
Knocking down the door to Europe
Having significantly reduced influence of the British shareholders in TNK-BP, Russian shareholders continued the war with their enemies-partners. In particular, they froze the deal between BP and Rosneft. The Russians now have a new goal of getting a stake in BP, through which they plan to go international.
A Rumafia source has recently had a conversation with Peter Aven, a co-owner of Alfa Group, which, in turn, controls a stake in TNK-BP. He made it clear that the conflict with British shareholders would continue. According to Aven, when the British started a major strategic project with Rosneft in Russia, they acted extremely arrogantly towards their Russian partners. TNK-BP Russian shareholders learned about the official signing of the contract between BP and Rosneft only from the press. Aven assumes that the British are confident that now they have leverage through deputy prime minister Igor Sechin. But Sechin acted deliberately and did not put pressure on the Russian shareholders.
When initiating the conflict with BP over the deal with Rosneft, the Russian shareholders had one goal, says Peter Aven, to swap their stake in TNK-BP for a stake in BP. However, the British do not want such an exchange on any conditions and offer to buy shares in TNK-BP. BP shares would help Russian shareholders to reach a new international level. When asked about further plans of Russians if they get hold of the package, Aven replied as follows: "As my father said, once you grasp the door handle, you find a way to knock the door down."
Plans of going international demanded major changes in TNK-BP Security Service. A group of employees, including Viktor Novoselov and Mikhail Gorodov, left the Security Service. Novoselov was replaced by Major-General Vadim Ogar, former Ministry of the Interior deputy chief of Criminal Investigation department. He has experience in the oil industry and excellent contacts with law enforcement agencies in Western countries. He used to work in Security Service of Moscow branch of the Menatep - St. Petersburg bank, and then a few months in Security Service of Yukos. Then he worked at GUBOP (Main Office for Combating Organised Crime, later renamed to DBOPiT) where he was investigating into transnational gangs with ties abroad.
Public Chamber member extorted money from oil companies
According a Rumafia source, in 2008-2009 TNK-BP had to confront not only the British shareholders, but also Oleg Mitvol, who then was deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor, and lawyer Anatoly Kucherenoy, now a prominent member of the Public Chamber. Both tried to extort money from TNK-BP.
The source described the sheme used as follows: Rosprirodnadzor found evidence of leakage or contamination at TNK-BP subsidiaries in other regions, like a leak from pipelines, oil fields, etc. Moreover, according to the source, some of pipes were suspected to have been damaged intentionally. Rosprirodnadzor drew up relevant acts. Then people of Anatoly Kucherena found entities, the territories of which were allegedly contaminated, and urged to file suits against TNK-BP demanding to pay large sums as compensation for the damage. Then Kucherena’s men offered TNK-BP to solve the issue for an amount much smaller. This was accompanied by pressure and inspections by Rosprirodnadzor and public statements by Mitvol.
As a result, TNK-BP had to agree. But later Khan ordered Security Service to start a "war" with Mitvol and Kucherena. According to our source, they found evidence that Mitvol had been treated for suspected schizophrenia. Khan handed the materials over to the government. That was when Mitvol stated to have problems. According to the source, Mitvol had to claim that he had got in an accident, after which he had had to be treated in hospital because he had headaches. He claimed that he had no chronic mental illness.
However, Mitvol left Rosprirodnadzor and left TNK-BP and Kucherena alone.
Thomas Petrov, Alexey Gordon, Rumafia.com