BP plc CEO John Browne abruptly resigned Tuesday after a British court removed an injunction that had prevented a newspaper group from publishing stories about his personal life. Tony Hayward, slated to move into the top spot this summer, was named CEO effective immediately.

“This is a voluntary step which I am making to avoid unnecessary embarrassment and distraction to the company at this important time,” Browne said. He acknowledged that he had a four-year relationship with a man named Jeff Chevalier of Canada. Chevalier claimed in court papers that Browne supported him with BP “resources and manpower,” and he wanted to tell his story to Associated Newspapers, which publish Great Britain’s Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard.

Chairman Peter Sutherland said the board of directors had reviewed the allegations at Browne’s request and decided they were “unfounded and insubstantive.”

Browne expressed disappointment about the court’s decision to allow details of his private life to be made public.

“In my 41 years with BP I have kept my private life separate from my business life,” Browne said. “I have always regarded my sexuality as a personal matter, to be kept private. It is a matter of deep disappointment that a newspaper group has now decided that allegations about my personal life should be made public.”

The decision to resign immediately will require Browne to give up a bonus of up to 1.3 times his annual salary, which was worth a total of about US$7 million. Browne also will be excluded from BP’s long-term performance share plan for 2007-2009, which would have had a maximum potential value of US$24 million.

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