By Nataliya Vasilyeva
MOSCOW -- Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman on Monday unexpectedly announced his resignation as chief executive of
, a sign of rising tensions between shareholders at the Russian venture of British company
TNK-BP, which is owned in equal parts by BP and a group of Russian billionaire shareholders known as
, said in a statement that Fridman is due to step down as CEO and chairman of the board in 30 days. It did not specify the reason, but BP's representative in Russia, Vladimir Buyanov, cited "personal reasons."
Fridman is considered one of the most influential people in the venture. He has been at TNK-BP's helm since 2009 and was to head it through 2013.
TNK-BP has been plagued by shareholder conflicts since it was formed in 2003, and Fridman's appointment as the chief executive three years ago looked like a sign of reconciliation between two rival groups of shareholders.
But those tensions seemed to resurface last year, when a potentially huge deal BP was hoping to sign with Russian state-owned firm
to extract oil in the Artic broke down after AAR blocked it, claiming BP should be pursuing such deals through TNK-BP.
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A source close to the Russian shareholders told the
on Monday that Fridman resigned because the equilibrium between BP and AAR's investors has been lost and can no longer be maintained.
The source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said TNK-BP management "was not prepared to work in an environment of constant pressure and mistrust from BP's side" and that "BP has lost the trust and credibility of AAR."
The source claimed that BP has attempted to interfere directly with decision-making at TNK-BP by threatening the management with legal action if their decisions are not approved by BP.
|In this June 16, 2008 file photo, Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman speaks at a news conference in Moscow.
The source, however, insisted that AAR is committed to its investment in TNK-BP and did not contemplate selling its stake.
TNK-BP's board of directors hasn't met since December and has been unable to replace two directors who resigned in December. Without a quorum on the board, the company was forced to cancel plans of distributing dividends.