Cablegate: Embassy Moscow
PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHMO #2671/01 2491526
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051526Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9872
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002671
DEPT FOR EUR/RUS, FOR EEB/ESC/IEC GALLOGLY AND WRIGHT
EUR/CARC, SCA (GALLAGHER, SUMAR)
DOE FOR FREDRIKSEN, HEGBORG, EKIMOFF
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/04/2018
TAGS: EPET ENRG ECON PREL RS
------- SUMMARY -------
1.(C) On September 4, BP announced that it had reached an agreement with AAR, its partners in TNK-BP, to resolve the ongoing dispute (reftels) over the future of the company. The agreement includes the departure of current CEO Bob Dudley by December 1, a new board structure, and an option to conduct an IPO in the "medium-term." TNK-BP VP for International Affairs Shawn McCormick (protect) told us the deal was bad for BP, which had "caved" because of the company's deteriorating situation worldwide. BP Russia President Richard Spies (protect) told us in a separate meeting on September 4 that the deal was "good news." Spies said BP retains ownership and dividend flows and the IPO will have a disciplining effect on AAR's behavior. The agreement is not yet legally adopted but should end the downward spiral of the company. Overall, however, the damage to Russia's investment climate is likely to linger. End summary.
------------------ BP SEES IPO AS KEY ------------------
2.(SBU) Following months of behind-the-scenes negotiations led by BP CEO Tony Hayward and AAR partner Mikhail Fridman, the two sides have come to an agreement spelling out a way forward for TNK-BP, their embattled joint venture.
3.(C) Perhaps the most valuable part of the agreement for BP is the stipulation that the partners will prepare to issue an IPO of up to 20% of TNK-BP Holding, the main subsidiary of TNK-BP Ltd. According to Spies, AAR's interest in raising the value of the company in preparation for the IPO should prevent AAR from pulling too much cash out of the company, either in dividends or by even less transparent means. McCormick agreed that the IPO was the most valuable part of the deal for BP. According to Spies, the IPO would only take place in the medium-term (1-2 years), as AAR seeks to bolster the value of the company before a sale and overcome the current market and investor malaise.
4.(C) The AAR partners have reportedly long sought a way to cash-out some of their stake in the company and have wanted a more convincing benchmark for TNK-BP's true market value than is provided by the current 3% float. In addition, the IPO would bring in foreign shareholders less likely to accept any attempt by state firms to later acquire any part of TNK-BP at a discount to market. (Note: The BVI-registered TNK-BP Ltd. will continue to be owned 50-50 by BP and AAR. The floated shares will not allow shareholders much, if any, say in the operations of the company, which would still answer to TNK-BP Ltd. End note.)
CHANGES TO TOP MANAGEMENT WEAKEN GOVERNANCE
5.(C) Both Spies and McCormick confirmed that BP had agreed to the removal of Bob Dudley as CEO. Spies said both sides are currently reviewing possible candidates to replace Dudley, who will leave his post December 1. He told us BP agreed to nominate a CEO who is not affiliated with BP or AAR, who has extensive management experience in Russia, and who has excellent Russian language skills -- "in effect, a Russian." He added that Dudley would be looked after by both BP and AAR. McCormick noted that a key check on AAR's influence has always been specific legal powers entrusted to the person of Bob Dudley. He expressed concern that these powers would be diluted under a new CEO.
6.(C) While BP's statement on the deal stressed the importance of corporate governance and transparency, McCormick said he believes the deal specifically reduces the ability of BP to control either. He said the new make-up of the board, to include three "independent" members to be agreed upon by both sides, will likely favor AAR, taking away MOSCOW 00002671 002 OF 003 the critical 50-50 arrangement that was the major check on AAR malfeasance. Moreover, McCormick said AAR co-owners Viktor Vekselberg and German Khan will remain in their current positions as part of the "core" leadership of the company, further diluting BP's influence. For his part, Spies stressed that the agreement includes a mechanism to ensure the independence of the new directors by requiring arbitration if the two sides can't agree on a director.
------ EXPATS ------
7.(C) McCormick said the contentious issue of foreign employees remains to be worked out. He noted however, that slightly less than 60 expat employees remain at the company, down from about 235 in June. He added that he thinks nearly all remaining foreigners have an eye out to leave the company, with most having no interest in going to work for BP. McCormick said in strictest confidence that James Owen, the CFO who resigned recently resigned, left because he was increasingly being pressured by the AAR owners to sign accounting and financial documents that were patently falsified. According to contacts at the French embassy here, Tony Considine, in charge of refining and marketing and one of the most widely respected expats in the Russian oil sector, left the company in part because he couldn't do his job in the face of pressure to redirect oil and other products to AAR-favored traders.
---------------------------- A GOOD DEAL, OR DID BP CAVE? ----------------------------
8.(C) Spies called the deal "good news" in that it allows the company to keep its 50% share and remain in Russia. In addition to Spies' spin, BP's press release on the deal is also positive while AAR's release is relatively glowing and includes quotes from Deputy Premier Igor Sechin and Presidential Aide Arkady Dvorkovich praising the deal as sending a "positive signal for the Russian market." Indeed, Spies said BP understands that AAR arranged for this deal to receive a "nod from appropriate levels." Spies was "optimistic" that TNK-BP's various administrative problems (reftels) -- labor code violations, tax inspections, visa troubles -- would "go into hibernation."
9.(C) Despite the public pronouncements, however, it appears BP got less than it gave. Both Spies and McCormick noted that AAR got basically all it wanted, including the green light on some international expansion that was more limited in the original shareholder agreement. Spies admitted that although neither he nor anyone in BP would "officially" say so, BP's power has been diluted under the new deal. McCormick expressed general frustration with BP for not having defended its interests forcefully enough. He said BP had been forced to give in by its deteriorating situation worldwide. BP's stock was down 30 percent in recent months and there were credible reports of potential takeover attempts by Chevron and others. In addition, he said BP had gotten wind that Standard and Poor's was considering lowering BP's credit rating. This had caused BP Chairman Peter Sutherland, who had been opposed to the deal, to shift 180 degrees.
------------- WILL IT HOLD? -------------
10.(C) According to McCormick and Spies, the MOU signed by the two sides is still not a binding document, but a "blueprint" for a binding contract that should be completed by the end of the year. Alfa Bank Chief Strategist Ron Smith told us September 5 that the agreement "appears to be the real deal," allowing the company to move forward. Chris Weafer, chief strategist of investment bank UralSib, was more cautious, suggesting in press statements that TNK-BP has much work to do to regain investor confidence. In a private e-mail exchange with us, Weafer predicted that the deal would probably break down by early spring. Weafer also did not discount the possibility that a GOR-approved takeover by Gazprom (or Rosneft) might still be in the cards. ------- MOSCOW 00002671 003 OF 003
11.(C) BP may have gotten the best deal it could have under the circumstances. They preserved their sizable investment and have stabilized the company's downward spiral for now. That said, it would appear they got the short end of the stick and their control of the company has been weakened. In addition, while the deal is likely to increase TNK-BP's short-term value, it may not have much of an effect on overall investor confidence given that AAR's tactics may be seen as successful and therefore might be repeated. BEYRLE