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Foreign staff at the Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP will be forced
Foreign staff at the Russian-British oil venture TNK-BP will be forced to leave Russia starting next week over visa and work permits amid an ongoing shareholder dispute, a Russian business daily said Tuesday.

Visas and work permits for 10 TNK-BP top managers are due to expire next week forcing them to leave the country, Kommersant said citing a source close to the oil company. The paper said others might follow if they fail to obtain documentation by the end of July.

CEO Robert Dudley said the company has been trying to resolve the problem since April.

"We have been given no grounds to believe these issues will be resolved before senior international staff and their families will have to leave Russia. Unfortunately, this now appears very likely," Dudley told Reuters via his spokesman on Monday.

The ongoing row between four Russian billionaire shareholders in TNK-BP and the British oil major, each owning 50% in Russia's third largest oil producer, has been over strategy, with the Russian investors also demanding cuts in the number of the company's foreign staff on secondment from BP.

The Russian shareholders have accused BP of preventing TNK-BP's expansion abroad and demanded Dudley's resignation. The British giant has rejected all the accusations and demands.

Kommersant said Dudley could also be forced to leave Russia paving the way for the Russian partners taking control of the company.

Some analysts have suggested the TNK-BP dispute is over ownership. The ban on selling stakes in the firm expired in 2008. State energy companies Gazprom and Rosneft have been reported to be seeking a stake in TNK-BP.

The paper said citing sources close to TNK-BP shareholders that an inter-government commission, comprising Russian migration officials and members of a foreign workforce service, failed to set a quota for the oil venture's foreign employees in late June over a "lack of agreement" inside the company.

The commission approved a tentative quota of 71 foreign specialists and will set the final figure after TNK-BP provides "a consolidated opinion" on the issue, Yevgeny Chernetsov, deputy head of the Moscow government's committee engaged in the decision making, said as quoted by the paper.

German Khan, one of the Russian investors in the oil venture, requested in April that the quota on foreign staff be reduced to 63. Dudley insisted on 150 employees.

The commission's next meeting will take place next week, Chernetsov said, according to the daily.

Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg said last week a preliminary shareholder agreement on a new TNK-BP strategy and management could be reached before July 11.

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