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商业 - 能源

英国石油铤而走险,赴俄淘金终尝苦果

Katie Benner和Alex Konrad 2011年11月10日

英国石油公司在其同意成为秋明石油公司的合作伙伴之前,究竟对这家俄罗斯石油公司了解多少?

    Norex公司在其起诉书中声称,为了获得Yugraneft油田的控制权,秋明石油公司做了两件事情。其一,一位与秋明石油公司有关联的债权人于1998年为一笔未尝账单对Chernogorneft公司提起诉讼。后来,Chernogorneft公司和英国石油公司都表示愿意偿还债务,但这位债权人又拒绝接受。由于这笔未偿付的债务,Chernogorneft公司被迫进入了Norex公司所称的“破产陷阱”。

    事态发展令英国石油公司忧心如焚,它甚至说服时任英国首相托尼•布莱尔进行干预。布莱尔于1999年9月致函弗拉基米尔•普京,表达了他的惊愕之情。“(英国石油公司担心)有人将要把一家原本健康且具备盈利能力的公司置于破产倒闭的境地,”布莱尔写道。“这起案件……事关未来的外国直接投资流入,对于俄罗斯经济的复苏至关重要。”

    但一位地方法官——Norex公司在其起诉书中称,他是由“秋明石油公司时任主席”直接任命的——最终还是宣布Chernogorneft公司破产。

    Norex公司声称,秋明石油公司随后掌控了Chernogorneft公司的破产竞拍流程。只有与秋明石油公司有关联的公司才被允许参加封闭式的拍卖程序。Norex公司获得的一份解密的中情局(CIA)备忘录,文件显示,Sidanco公司官员后来从法庭获得了推迟破产程序的裁定,但是武装护卫却阻止法警交付相关文件。秋明石油公司最终以区区1.76亿美元的价格就购买了Chernogorneft公司的资产,这一价格大约只相当于该公司实际价值的三分之一。

    “我们认为整个破产程序是无效的,”英国石油公司俄罗斯公司时任对外事务主管霍华德•蔡斯在一封电子邮件中写道。现在已成为英国石油公司国际事务主任的蔡斯还写道:“我们认为,这是一场彻头彻尾的闹剧。武装护卫阻止Sidanco公司官员进入Chernogorneft办事处履行法庭禁令——只有俄罗斯才会发生这种事!”

    起诉书显示,此后,Norex在Yugraneft公司的股权先是缩水,并最终被武力夺取。“2天后……(秋明石油公司官员亚历山大•伯曼)、该公司雇佣的6位律师和16名身穿迷彩服、手持AK-47冲锋枪的武装人员强行闯入Yugraneft公司的办事处,假称伯曼已被推举为Yugraneft公司总经理,并控制了Yugraneft的油田。2001年7月6日,(秋明石油公司的私人武装人员)切断了Yugraneft公司的电话和网线,占领了Yugraneft油田和办事处,最终导致该公司外籍员工逃离了这个国家。”

存心冒险

    这些文件显示,秋明石油公司控制了Yugraneft油田之后,英国石油公司官员非常担忧。“倘若无法撤销这种非法出售行为……那么,我们就打算下个月退出Sidanco公司,”长期在英国石油公司担任高管职务的迈克•汤森在1999年秋天向其高管同僚发送的一封电邮中这样写道。

    Norex claims in its lawsuit that TNK did two things to seize control of Yugraneft. First, in 1998 a TNK-related creditor sued Chernogorneft for an unpaid bill. When both Chernogorneft and BP offered to pay the bill, the creditor refused to take the money. With an outstanding bill, Chernogorneft was forced into what Norex claims was a ginned-up bankruptcy.

    BP was so worried about the proceedings that the company prevailed on then Prime Minister Tony Blair to intervene. Blair wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin in September of 1999, expressing his dismay. "[BP fears] that what should and could be a healthy and profitable company will be manipulated into bankruptcy and collapse," Blair wrote. "The case… will be critical to future in-flows of foreign direct investment, so vital to Russian economic revival."

    But a regional judge – whom Norex says in its complaint was appointed by "TNK's then Chairman" -- ultimately declared Chernogorneft bankrupt.

    Norex alleges that TNK then took control of the Chernogorneft bankruptcy auction. Only TNK-related companies were allowed to participate in the closed auction. When Sidanco officials obtained court orders to postpone the proceedings, armed guards blocked bailiffs from delivering the documents, according to a declassified CIA memo obtained by Norex. TNK ultimately bought the assets for just $176 million, about a third of the company's worth, according to the memo.

    "We regard the entire bankruptcy process as invalid," Howard Chase, BP Russia's then-director of external affairs wrote in an email. Chase, who is now Director of International Affairs for BP (BP), also wrote: "We understand that the fun went on right to the end. Sidanco officials were prevented by armed guards from entering the Chernogorneft offices to serve an injunction – just another day in Russia!"

    Norex's stake in Yugraneft dwindled, and was eventually taken by force, according to the complaint. "Two days later… [TNK official Alexander Berman], six TNK attorneys, and sixteen TNK militia members dressed in fatigues and carrying AK-47 machine guns forcibly entered Yugraneft's corporate offices, falsely declared that Berman had been elected Yugraneft's General Director, and took control over Yugraneft's oil filed. On July 6, 2001, [TNK's private armed militia members] cut off Yugraneft's phone and Internet service, and occupied Yugraneft's oil field and field office, causing Yugraneft's foreign employees to flee the country."

A calculated risk

    After TNK took control of the Yugraneft oil field, documents show that BP officials were worried. "If a reversal of this illegal sale cannot be achieved... then we need to prepare to exit Sidanco over the next month," Mike Townshend, a longtime BP executive, wrote in an email to fellow executives in the fall of 1999.

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