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BP fury at 'illegal' Moscow raid

British oil giant BP has called a raid by Russian bailiffs and armed police on its Moscow office illegal.

BP's Russian spokesman Vladimir Buyanov said the company was co-operating with the bailiffs. He said the firm's office in a Moscow skyscraper was guarded by police with assault rifles.

Wednesday's search is connected with a lawsuit in a Siberian court. Andrei Prokhorov, an obscure minority shareholder of BP's Russian venture TNK-BP, is suing BP, seeking some £1.85 billion in damages, for allowing an Arctic exploration deal with the Russian state-owned energy firm Rosneft to fall through.

Mr Prokhorov said his interests were harmed as TNK-BP could have benefited from becoming part of the deal.

Mr Buyanov said employees were allowed to come in with armed policemen and collect their personal things from the office in the morning, but they still did not know as of Wednesday night when they would be allowed back into the office.

In London, BP spokesman David Nicholas said the company did not think "there is any legitimate basis" for the raid.

He said the work of the BP PLC office was "illegally being interfered with".

The multibillion Arctic deal between BP and Rosneft collapsed earlier this year after Russian TNK-BP shareholders contested the deal. They said BP was breaking TNK-BP's shareholder agreement by entering into a deal without the venture's knowledge or consent.

On Tuesday Rosneft teamed up with Exxon Mobil in a landmark deal to develop offshore oil fields in the Russian Arctic. Rosneft's spokesman said there was no way that BP could revive the Arctic deal with Rosneft now.

Alexei Kokin, senior analyst with the Moscow-based UralSib investment bank, dismissed fears that the search could be a bad sign for BP's business in Russia, saying it did not look "like the beginning of an end" for BP there.

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