The move by M&G Recovery Fund, which owns 5.1% of the company, comes days after the Kurdistan oil explorer attempted to quell criticisms by splitting the roles of chairman and chief executive for the first time, with Simon Murray, the colourful former chairman of commodity group Glencore, appointed as chairman.
However, M&G said: "The £7.4bn M&G Recovery Fund wishes to improve corporate governance at GKP by effecting the appointment of independent directors to its board. The fund also expects a strengthened board to review the current level of directors' remuneration, which we consider excessive – for example, we note the payment to the chief executive [Todd Kozel] of $13.6m (£9.1m), plus $9.1m deferred cash, in respect of 2012 when the company [lost] $80m."
M&G is supported by another top backer, Capital Group, which told the Sunday Times: "Kozel needs adult supervision. This company needs to be run for the shareholders, not the management."
A spokesman for Gulf Keystone said: "This is a business that has not missed a beat operationally: 18 wells drilled, 18 discoveries … The company is looking for best-in-class independent non-executive directors in the immediate term and possibly another thereafter."
The comment about independence is thought to be a reference to Jeremy Asher, one of four potential non-executives proposed by M&G who has previously been GKP's deputy chairman. When asked about the firm's objections to the three other names – two of whom have worked at BP – a company insider said: "I think we can do better."
Shareholders will have the opportunity to vote on the new directors at the annual meeting on 25 July, when they also have a chance to oust two existing non-executives.
Gulf Keystone's prize asset is an oil field in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. A long-running dispute over payments for oil and a legal challenge to ownership of its oilfields have weighed on the shares, which have fallen 24% over the past 12 months.
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