BP Ex-Employees Deny Wrongdoing in Singapore Lawsuit

(Corrects to delete misuse of confidential information in third paragraph.)

Quek Chin Thean, a former BP Plc (BP/) head of commodities trading who’s being sued for misusing confidential information to help rival Shenzhen Brightoil (933) Group, has denied any wrongdoing in papers filed at a Singapore court.

“I have never at any time during my employment with BP compromised BP’s interests,” Quek said in the papers filed with the Singapore High Court on July 29.

BP claimed in a July 5 lawsuit Quek and five others breached their obligations and accepted a sign-on fee from Brightoil. Quek and legal manager Simon Cheong also lured another 14 BP colleagues to quit en masse and “actively assisted” Brightoil in setting up a competing business, BP said.

Chinese companies including China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (600028), Asia’s biggest refiner, and Brightoil have been acquiring assets and adding traders as they expand overseas and seek to meet demand in the world’s largest energy-consuming nation. BP may also be losing employees after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Quek said.

Quek denied engineering the mass departures from BP. The London-based company changed the way bonuses were paid from 2007, causing “unhappiness and distrust” among the traders, he said.

BP accused five of them, excluding Cheong, of misusing confidential information.

‘Musical Chairs’

Asia’s oil trading industry is seeing “musical chairs movement” as regional economies expand, Liu Yiling and Annie Sachdev, consultants at London-based recruitment firm Robert Walters Plc (RWA) said in an e-mail. “Traders often move via referrals and their personal networks due to the small and competitive nature of the oil industry.”

Lau Lu Ching, a Singapore-based BP spokeswoman, declined to comment.

The six former workers being sued include head of operations Paul John Bradshaw, trading manager John Foo, regional operating unit manager Clarence Chang, and executive assistant Laura Kuan.

They had “access to and possessed intricate knowledge” of BP’s business strategies and trade secrets, the oil company said. Unauthorized disclosure of the information would harm BP “immeasurably” and create a “significant new competitor that is well aware of our trading strategies,” BP said.

All six said they have never misused the confidential information, according to their affidavits.

BP, which reported a record loss of $17.2 billion in the second quarter, replaced Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward and has pledged to speed up asset sales of as much as $30 billion after the oil spill led to a record loss.

40 Workers Left

The oil company has operated in Singapore, Asia’s biggest oil-trading hub, since 1964 and has 640 employees in the city state, according to BP’s website. At least 40 employees have left BP’s Eastern Hemisphere trading operations since the start of the year, said Quek, who worked at BP since 1992.

The residues trading division has been “under constant pressure” to boost profits and “fear tactics” were used by BP to manage the team, he said. “BP was treating its staff as commodities.”

BP, which had search orders for the homes of the group and their personal electronic equipment, has asked the court for a temporary order preventing the six using the information.

All six asked the court to set aside the search orders, claiming they are “extremely intrusive and oppressive.” The court is scheduled to privately hear the application to quash the search orders on Aug. 17.

BP uncovered evidence of e-mail correspondence between Quek and Brightoil Chairman Raymond Sit Kwong Lam as well as Vice President Michael Zhang, indicating they planned to set up a Singapore-based oil-trading firm, according to court papers. Brightoil isn’t named as a defendant in this lawsuit.

The British oil company said it lost the opportunity to address any human-resources issues and stem the loss of its staff as a result of the sudden and mass resignations of “so many valuable employees.”

The case is BP Singapore Pte vs Quek Chin Thean & Ors S482/2010 in the Singapore High Court.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Tan in Singapore at atan17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at jschneider5@bloomberg.net

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