The recent deal between BP and the Russian oil and gas giant Rosneft was a Faustian pact that was forced on the London-listed major by the Kremlin, William Browder, a fund manager with Hermitage Capital, told CNBC Tuesday.
In mid-January, BP agreed a deal with Rosneft which would give it access to offshore exploration in the South Kara Sea and at the time BP CEO Bob Dudley told CNBC the deal offered huge rewards to BP given the access they would get to new fields and reserves.
Browder, who is known as a critic of the Kremlin and who lost his business in Russia, dismissed this argument, questioning why Dudley, himself expelled from Russia for 18 months following a battle for control of BP's joint venture with TNK, would willingly sign up to such a deal.
“BP agreed to a deal that does not make sense. I cannot believe that Dudley would have willingly signed up to such a deal with any enthusiasm. It is my view that BP was pushed into this deal,” Browder said.
Contacted by CNBC, BP officials refused to comment.
“Following the Gulf of Mexico disaster BP was at risk of losing 30 percent of its business and CEO Tony Hayward was called to Moscow,” Browder said.
“In my personal view that meeting saw Hayward presented with a Faustian pact from a position of weakness. Sign up to a deal with Rosneft that would help Russia legitimize a number of assets stolen from Yukos or risk losing another 20 percent of your business in Russia,” he added.
A RIV, Not a BRIC
Browder dismisses the investment case for Russia out of hand.
“I was once the biggest fund manager in Russia. I was then thrown out of the country as a national security risk,” Browder said. “They raided my offices, stole my assets and when my lawyer went after the people who did this he was thrown in prison, tortured and killed.”
Browder now says he receives regular death threats from inside Russian via SMS, email and messages on his voice mail and is widely seen as the biggest critic of investing in Russia at a time when Moscow is attempting to regain credibility with international investors.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month Browder went head to head with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov in a session on Russia at which business leaders and government officials presented the positive case for investing in Russia.
In Davos a number of CEOs from Russian companies told CNBC that the Kremlin is working hard to improve its image with investors.
But Browder said Russia should not be seen as an investment case worthy of fellow BRIC Brazil, India and China and should instead be put into a new acronym, the RIV - including Iran and Venuazala.
“People come onto CNBC and tell your viewers that Russian assets are cheap. Russian assets are cheap with good reason, you don't know if you will own those assets in a year or two,” Browder said.
“If authorities are expropriating assets, arresting people and killing them then assets are cheap for a reason.”