A slow-acting poison was used in Russia to send a “message” to the chief executive of BP back in 2008, a former employee of the British oil giant has claimed.
TNK-BP was a joint venture by BP in Russia, run at the time by current BP chief executive Bob Dudley.
Ilya Zaslavskiy, who worked for TNK-BP for four and a half years, told the Telegraph on April 30 that BP had carried out extensive lab tests showing that Dudley had been poisoned in Russia.
“The poisoning had to be done by professionals to make sure that Dudley did not die. They just wanted to give him a message. It was definitely done by professionals who could administer this poison over weeks,” he told the newspaper.
“They did extensive lab tests in Britain and it was confirmed that the poisoning had taken place in Russia. His blood showed signs of poisoning. I have now had this confirmed by a good source close to Dudley and I have no reason to doubt it.”
TNK-BP was later sold to Russian state-owned energy company Rosneft for £12 billion, five years after Dudley had left.
BP has never given any official response to the rumours that first came to light in a 2014 New Yorker article that chief executive Dudley fled Russia in 2008 fearing he’d been poisoned. According to media reports, BP has declined to respond to the latest claims by Zaslavskiy.
Zaslavskiy is now head of research at the Free Russia Foundation, an anti-Putin think tank in Washington, and a fellow with the Chatham House policy institute in London. He said the source confirmed the poisoning to him in 2016.
“But who definitely carried out the poisoning, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know the substance. I don’t know any of that. My source wasn’t open to talk about this.”
Only the Russian intelligence had the expertise to administer a toxin capable of slowly harming, but not killing, Dudley, he believes.
“The whole idea was to oust Bob Dudley and about 150 western managers,” Zaslavskiy said.
He said that the poisoning was to send a message to Dudley, who had been too stubborn to cave in to other forms of pressure from the authorities.
“He thought he could run the company because he had the law on his side so he stuck it out in Moscow.”
After the diagnosis, Dudley left Russia secretly and quickly, he said.
The claim comes just two months after former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in the British city of Salisbury with Novichok, a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia.
The British government concluded that it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning. With no “credible explanation” from the Russian authorities, Prime Minister Theresa May on March 14 announced the expulsion of 23 diplomats working as Russian intelligence officers.
Her actions were echoed by punitive diplomatic expulsions from other nations including the United States.
Russian authorities have denied any involvement in the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter.
In 2006, former Russian agent-turned-British citizen Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning 21 days after coming into contact with the radioactive substance over tea in a Mayfair hotel in London.
A later official inquiry, published in 2016, concluded that he had been poisoned by Andrey Lugovoy and his associate, Dmitri Kovtun.
“When Mr. Lugovoy poisoned Mr. Litvinenko, it is probable that he did so under the direction of the FSB,” wrote the chairman of the inquiry Sir Robert Owen in the conclusion of the report. “I would add that I regard that as a strong probability.”
According to the Telegraph, a senior source at BP said: “TNK-BP was an extremely successful business financially. It was also extremely noisy at that time. Certainly, at various times life was made difficult and it was difficult to operate. But we are not going to comment whatsoever about Bob.
“Certainly pressure was put on him using regulatory means and things like that. But nobody will ever comment about these allegations of poisoning.”