Bernard Looney plots Abu Dhabi comeback from BP scandal

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Former BP chief executive Bernard Looney has met with senior figures in the United Arab Emirates, as the Irishman seeks a comeback following a scandal last year over his past relationships with colleagues.

Looney has held talks with Sultan al-Jaber, chair of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and with the UAE’s powerful national security adviser and businessman, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

The talks have included a discussion about whether Looney could be involved in making private equity-style investments with the backing of the Gulf-state, one of the people said. Looney has not discussed a role within Adnoc, that person added.

Adnoc said in a statement to the Financial Times that the company had not held any talks with Looney but did not address whether any private discussions between him and Jaber had taken place. A representative for Looney declined to comment. Sheikh Tahnoon could not be reached for comment.

Looney, who spent his entire career at the British oil major, resigned abruptly last September and was later dismissed for “serious misconduct” over his failure to fully disclose to the board past relationships with colleagues.

The 53-year-old was BP chief executive for less than three years. The company stripped him of as much as £32.4mn in pay and unvested share awards.

In his time at BP, Looney was respected in the industry for his ambitious attempt to pivot the 115-year-old oil company to cleaner fuels and retains friends in the sector.

Jaber was among industry executives and other business leaders who privately contacted Looney after his departure to offer support, according to people familiar with those conversations. 

BP and Adnoc have worked together in the UAE for more than 50 years and while Looney was chief executive he and Jaber developed a close professional relationship.

The UAE was criticised by environmentalists for appointing the head of its state oil company to chair the talks last year. Looney was one of several high-profile leaders to come out in support of Jaber and even wrote a letter to the FT in defence of him.

Jaber, who is also Minister of Industry and runs Masdar, the country’s biggest renewable energy company, is the UAE’s most powerful energy executive.

BP first investigated allegations about Looney’s past relationships with colleagues in 2022, after which the then chief executive acknowledged some relationships and assured the board he had nothing further to disclose, the FT previously reported.

When a second set of allegations last year revealed further relationships, Looney admitted that he had not been “fully transparent”. Those allegations included an accusation that he had promoted women with whom he had past undisclosed relationships, the FT reported.

Looney has not spoken publicly since his resignation in September. In his only public statement on the matter Looney said in December that he was “disappointed with the way the situation has been handled”.

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