"We confirm that 148 employees of BP have been recalled from TNK-BP. The reason for their recall is that the status of their stay in Russia has not been fully regulated in line with Russian migration laws," a TNK-BP spokesperson said.
The statement follows reports by some Russian and foreign media on Tuesday that about 150 TNK-BP employees were facing problems in extending their work visas. The Federal Migration Service has not commented on the reports.
Sources close to the situation earlier said that some of the company's staff had travelled to Russia on business visas, while they should have obtained work visas.
Police seized documents last week from the central office of TNK-BP, one of the largest crude producers in Russia. The Moscow office of British oil major BP was also raided by police.
Security officials said copies of official documents, papers on oil and gas production believed to contain commercial secrets, as well as ID cards belonging to foreign military organizations and to the CIA were found during the searches.
The Federal Security Service said that on March 12 officers had detained TNK-BP's Ilya Zaslavsky, along with his brother Alexander, who has links with the British Council, for "illegally gathering secret commercial information for the benefit of several foreign oil and gas companies, in order to give them advantages over Russian competitors."
The British Council, the U.K. Embassy's cultural arm, said Ilya Zaslavsky was not on its staff but was a member of the embassy's alumni club for foreign graduates of British universities. The British Council, whose regional offices in Russia were closed down earlier this year over alleged tax violations, subsequently voiced its concern over the arrests.
However, the Foreign Ministry denied there was a connection between the two matters. "There is no sense in looking for a connection between these two completely separate cases," Andrei Krivtsov, a deputy head of the Foreign Ministry's information and press department, said on Friday.
Despite Russia's denial that the two cases are unrelated, the arrests have the potential to further worsen Russian-British relations, already strained following the murder of Russian security service defector Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006 in London, and more recently by the closure of British Council offices.