Moscow - The Russian billionaire co-owners of TNK-BP, the Russian joint venture of oil major BP, are not in a position to block the possible sale of the British company's stake, a source close to BP said.
"We can sell it if we want to," the source told Reuters in response to speculation that the billionaire quartet would seek to veto any deal.
The Financial Times newspaper, citing a spokesperson for Russian shareholder consortium AAR, on Monday reported that the TNK-BP shareholder agreement prevents BP from giving out any confidential information to a third party without its consent.
The FT said such limitations could make it hard for a prospective buyer to complete due diligence on BP's stake, effectively giving AAR a veto right over any deal and making it harder for BP to exit without the risk of litigation.
Sources on both sides have said that it would be possible to bypass a clause in the joint venture's shareholder agreement that offers each owner the right of first refusal to buy their partner should one decide to exit.
BP, which paid a total of $8bn in 2003 to buy one half of TNK-BP, said on Friday it had received expressions of interest in its stake - estimated to be worth $30bn - and would pursue a possible sale.
Sources familiar with the matter say that the main suitor is Rosneftegaz, a Russian state energy holding company that controls Rosneft, the country's largest oil company.
Igor Sechin, a former deputy prime minister and close ally of recently-elected President Vladimir Putin, has been appointed CEO of Rosneft. Putin - in his last act as prime minister - nominated Sechin to the board of Rosneftegaz.
Sources close to Rosneft say that Sechin, whose dream of striking an Arctic exploration and share swap deal with BP was thwarted by AAR a year ago, has been given a mandate to build a state oil champion capable of competing on a global scale.
Sources close to AAR have said that they would be willing to buy out BP for a consideration of $25bn.
One veteran Moscow-based executive said a state buyout appeared the most likely option after the AAR shareholders - led by banking-to-retail billionaire Mikhail Fridman - lobbied former president Dmitry Medvedev to oppose the BP-Rosneft deal.
"The end game is that the state buys (TNK-BP)," said the source. "The issue is that Fridman overplayed his hand a couple of times."