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    BP says Russia has no grounds to delay TNK-BP chief's visa

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    LONDON/MOSCOW, July 17 (RIA Novosti) - British oil major BP criticized on Thursday Russian migration officials' statements that a new visa for Robert Dudley, CEO of joint venture TNK-BP, may not be renewed.

    Migration authorities demanded on Wednesday a copy of Dudley's new contract with TNK-BP before issuing a visa to replace the current one, which expires later this month. The Federal Migration Service (FMS) said his labor contract has expired, and that a new visa could not be issued without a valid contract.

    "Mr. Dudley has a legally valid employment contract and a work permit in place. His positions as CEO of TNK-BP and Chairman of the Management Board of TNK-BP Management remain in force," the company said on its website.

    The BP-appointed American executive of TNK-BP, Russia's third largest oil producer, has been at the center of a dispute between the British company and four Russian billionaire shareholders. The Russian partners have demanded Dudley's dismissal, saying he has acted only in the interests of BP.

    A key Russian shareholder and chairman of the board of directors of TNK-BP Management confirmed in a letter to the FMS chief published on Thursday that Dudley's contract expired on January 1, 2008 and has not been extended since.

    "The Board of Directors of TNK-BP Management has not elected or considered electing a management board chairman, or signed a labor contract with him in the specified period," Viktor Vekselberg said.

    BP executive vice president Lamar Mckay said: "I am extremely concerned that yet again there has been inappropriate and unauthorized interference by TNK-BP shareholder managers in this process."

    BP also said that TNK-BP had submitted documents for Dudley's visa to the FMS over a week ago, after the CEO received his work permit from the service. The FMS issued a receipt acknowledging the handover of the paperwork, BP said.

    A group of managers at TNK-BP have filed a lawsuit with a Moscow court against Dudley, citing a lack of a proper contract.

    Speaking at a news briefing in Moscow on Thursday, Dudley said he would not give in to Russian shareholders' demands, as he feels responsible for the company and wants to ensure it survives the current dispute, while retaining its potential for growth.

    He also said he is currently working on an open-ended contract.

    TNK-BP, in which the British oil major and a holding owned by four Russian tycoons control 50% each, has been hit by tax and labor checks recently, raising concerns that the company's foreign staff could be forced to leave Russia. In early July, however, migration authorities said they would issue most requested work permits for foreign staffers.

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