LONDON (Reuters) - BP's (BP.L) billionaire partners in TNK-BP TNBP.MM, Russia's third-biggest oil producer, have put their stake up for sale, starting a race with the British company to exit the venture and strengthening the hand of prospective state-controlled buyer Rosneft (ROSN.MM).
BP put its half of the $50 billion business up for sale in June and has been in talks with both the Soviet-born billionaires' AAR consortium and Rosneft about them buying its stake.
"We can confirm that we have received notification from Alfa Access Renova (AAR) of its intent to sell its share in TNK-BP," BP said on Tuesday in response to a story in the Financial Times flagging the move.
"We can also confirm that we are committed to continue the sales process for our 50 per cent share in TNK-BP as we announced on June 1," BP said by email.
AAR, with which BP has had a long history of disputes over the running of TNK-BP, needs to table a cash offer for BP's stake by October 17 or lose its right to good faith negotiations under the terms of the joint venture, but AAR's move to put its own stake up for sale adds a new dimension to the contest, where Rosneft is the only obvious alternative owner.
Sources familiar with the discussions have said it is unlikely AAR will go head-to-head with Rosneft for BP's stake because Rosneft has more financial firepower and better potential for gaining the all-important Kremlin backing, and yet the saleable value of AAR's stake could fall significantly should BP succeed in selling first given that Rosneft would become the dominant partner.
According to the Financial Times report, AAR also said it might seek to dispose of its half of the business through an initial public share offering.
AAR could not be reached for immediate comment but the FT quoted the chief executive of AAR as saying that by announcing their intention to sell the Russian partners wanted to have as many options open as possible in the event of Rosneft acquiring BP's stake.
"From our perspective we would become a financial investor in a company without any liquidity," Stan Polovets was quoted as saying in the FT's online edition.
Additional reporting by Stephen Mangan in London and Doug Busvine in Moscow; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Greg Mahlich