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Courts freeze Venezuela assets in Exxon row

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp XOM.N has moved to freeze up to $12 billion (6.2 billion pounds) in Venezuelan assets around the world as the U.S. company fights for payment in return for the state's takeover of a huge oil project last year.

The company said it has received court orders in Britain, the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles each freezing up to $12 billion in assets of Venezuela state oil firm PDVSA. An Exxon spokeswoman said the total that could be frozen worldwide was $12 billion.

Exxon also won a court order from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in December freezing more than $300 million belonging to PDVSA, as Exxon argued it would have little chance to recoup its investment from PDVSA should it win its arbitration.

PDVSA, one of the largest suppliers of crude oil to the United States, was not immediately available for comment.

The South American nation has an extensive overseas refining network, including the Citgo refining and marketing branch in the United States.

Exxon said in court filings that recent estimates have placed PDVSA’s global asset value -- including its operations in Venezuela -- at over $62 billion

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PDVSA’s European refining assets, principally a 50 percent share in the German refining joint venture Ruhr Oel, were held through a Netherlands Company PDV Europa BV, according to filings PDVSA made with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2006.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took over Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips COP.N stakes in multibillion-dollar heavy oil projects in Venezuela's oil region last June.

The move was part of the left-wing leader’s drive to nationalize key industries including utilities and telecommunications companies owned by private companies.

Exxon filed for arbitration in September. It has not specified how much it wants for the 41.7 percent stake in the Cerro Negro project, but it has said its remaining net book investment in the project was about $750 million at the time the assets were expropriated.

ConocoPhillips spokesman William Tanner said the company “continues to discuss an amicable resolution regarding the assets that were expropriated in Venezuela.”

The company filed for arbitration over the dispute in November.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to comment on the matter.

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