World News

Venezuela detains local head of oil joint venture with China: sources

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan authorities have arrested the president and two other officials in a corruption investigation at state oil company PDVSA’s Sinovensa joint venture with China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), oil sector and intelligence sources said on Saturday.

The three detainees, in the latest round-up in the struggling and graft-plagued oil sector, are Venezuelan.

The detention of Sinovensa President Alberto Bockh in eastern Anzoategui state on Thursday was confirmed to Reuters by five PDVSA sources, an intelligence source and another person in the local oil sector familiar with the case.

It was unclear what the precise accusations were against him and the other two detained Sinovensa employees.

Sinovensa had started an expansion project to boost output to 165,000 barrels per day (bpd), President Nicolas Maduro said in August, from a current capacity of 110,000 bpd.

Owned by PDVSA subsidiary Venezuelan Petroleum Corp (CVP) with CNPC, Sinovensa produces extra-heavy Orinoco crude and blends it with lighter oil to produce medium-grade Merey.

Blended crude grades are widely sought in Asian markets, where PDVSA is increasingly sending its crude production following U.S. sanctions that have effectively halted sales of Venezuela oil to the U.S. market.

Venezuela last year sold CNPC an additional 9.9% stake in Sinovensa, leaving it with 49% ownership.

Opposition leaders say PDVSA has been crippled by malfeasance under two decades of socialist rule, with sporadic arrests more the result of infighting among rival factions than a real effort to root out corruption.

There was no immediate comment from PDVSA or the Venezuelan government on the Sinovensa case.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Mircely Guanipa, Luc Cohen; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Tom Brown