Oligarchs In Talks On £17bn TNK-BP Sale
The Russian-based businessmen whose joint venture with BP has been plagued by years of in-fighting have agreed an outline deal to sell their stake to the state-owned oil giant Rosneft for about $28bn (£17.3bn), I have learned.
AAR, a consortium of four oligarchs (Len Blavatnik, Mikhail Fridman, German Khan and Viktor Vekselberg), owns 50% of TNK-BP. They are understood to have signed an outline agreement with Rosneft in Moscow last night.
The oligarchs' decision - which is not final, and could be reversed - potentially offers BP a significant boost as it tries to extricate itself from its conflict-ridden but lucrative alliance with AAR.
As well as ensuring a final separation from their fractious partners, a deal valued at $28bn would be higher than many analysts' estimates and would represent a significant financial boost to BP if it too could agree such a lucrative sale to Rosneft.
People close to BP said any deal between AAR and Rosneft would not affect BP's decision to sell its stake in the joint venture.
As Sky News revealed last month, BP is keen to sell its TNK-BP shareholding to Rosneft in a cash-and-shares deal that would give it a sizeable stake in the Russian state-owned oil giant.
The oligarchs' deal with Rosneft is understood to be subject to regulatory and other approvals, but the financing for Rosneft to acquire the stake is already believed to have been lined up from a syndicate of international banks.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has held talks with Bob Dudley, BP's chief executive, in recent weeks and given his blessing to Rosneft taking control of TNK-BP.
A number of complex hurdles remain before that happens, however.
Despite its agreement to sell its TNK-BP shares to Rosneft, AAR could still submit an offer for BP's stake in the joint venture before a 90-day 'good faith' negotiating period with the British company expires tonight.
Insiders said the oligarchs could table an offer for the BP stake to give themselves "optionality" if their deal with Rosneft fell through, although a source close to the process said he believed that that was now unlikely.
One source familiar with the agreement said that because it was not finalised, the oligarchs could choose to deny the existence of the deal struck in Moscow last night.
The complexity of the negotiations underlines the chess-like manner in which BP's future in Russia has been played out in recent months.
BP put its shareholding up for sale in June and according to the terms of its shareholder agreement with AAR, it could only agree a sale to the oligarchs before the 90-day period ended. A deadline for all parties - including Rosneft - to bid for the BP stake has been set at 9am on Thursday.
AAR and Rosneft were seen as likely to compete to buy the BP stake, only for AAR's shareholders to say last week that they too would be willing sellers, either to another party or through an initial public offering.
BP has 45 days from the date of that notification to respond to AAR, meaning that AAR cannot formally agree a deal with Rosneft before then without BP's consent. However, insiders say that that consent would be forthcoming from BP because of its desire to consummate a partnership with Rosneft.
The stakes are high for Mr Dudley, whose tenure at the helm of BP began in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.
Since then, he has been subjected to increasingly intense questioning by City analysts about the provenance of BP's future growth, particularly after the company's previous share swap alliance with Rosneft was abandoned last year after legal objections from its oligarch partners.
AAR and BP declined to comment.