- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

LONDON (AP) — BP PLC’s chief executive officer, John Browne, resigned yesterday, hours after a judge allowed a newspaper to publish charges from a former boyfriend that the executive misused company resources.

Mr. Browne, who had already moved up his departure by more than a year after a deadly refinery blast in Texas and a giant oil spill in Alaska, denied any improper conduct relating to BP. But he acknowledged that he had lied to a judge about how he met his former partner, with whom he had a four-year relationship.

The Mail on Sunday, the newspaper that had sought to publish the claims, immediately called for Mr. Browne to be prosecuted for perjury.

Mr. Browne said he regretted the lie, saying he was in shock at his private life being exposed, and was stepping down voluntarily “to avoid unnecessary embarrassment and distraction to the company.”

Mr. Browne’s designated successor, exploration and production head Tony Hayward, will take over as CEO immediately, the company said. He will have to repair BP’s tarnished reputation after the series of high-profile operational and regulatory mishaps.

BP said Mr. Browne’s decision meant he would lose a bonus of up to 1.3 times his annual salary, worth more than $6.9 million. He would also forgo inclusion in a share plan with a potential value of $23.9 million.

Mr. Browne, 59, had been fighting since January to keep the Mail on Sunday from publishing details from the interview with Jeff Chevalier. He acknowledged the relationship in the statement yesterday and apologized for lying to the judge.

Mr. Browne was accused of using BP computers and staff to help Mr. Chevalier, of using support staff to set up and then wind down a company Mr. Browne created for him to run, and sending a senior BP employee on a personal errand to deliver cash to him.

BP said an internal investigation determined that those charges were unfounded.

After more than a decade at the helm of BP, Mr. Browne — a close associate of Prime Minister Tony Blair — had announced in January that he would resign at the end of July, bringing his expected departure forward by more than a year.

Then his annual performance bonus for last year was cut almost in half as the oil spill in Alaska and the effects of the refinery explosion in Texas overshadowed record profits for the oil company.

Mr. Browne joined the company in 1966 as an apprentice and worked his way up to the top job in 1995. He oversaw BP’s expansion into the United States, including the 1998 merger with Amoco and the subsequent acquisitions of Arco and Castrol.

Mr. Browne’s attempts to fashion BP as an environmentally friendly oil company — he was the first major oil company CEO to acknowledge global warming and masterminded BP’s logo change from a shield to a flowerlike sunburst design with the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” — were undermined by the company’s recent U.S. troubles.

BP was forced to temporarily close some of its operations at the Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska because of a major pipeline spill and delayed the opening of its key Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The 2005 explosion at its Texas refinery that killed 15 workers has so far cost the company around $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profits.

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