(Reuters) - U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips on Tuesday filed a motion in a Delaware court seeking to seize shares in the parent of U.S. refiner Citgo Petroleum to collect on an arbitration award against Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
Citgo, a PDVSA subsidiary and Venezuela’s crown jewel overseas asset, is being targeted by numerous parties seeking payment from Venezuela or PDVSA. But any transfer of its ownership is currently restricted by U.S. sanctions aimed at forcing out socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The International Chamber of Commerce last year awarded ConocoPhillips $2 billion as compensation for Venezuela’s 2007 takeover of its assets. Conoco said that PDVSA made some payments, but has not finished paying, giving it the right to enforce the award.
In staking a claim to PDVSA’s overseas assets, Conoco joins Canadian gold mining company Crystallex, which has won a $1.4 billion judgment for expropriation of its assets, and holders of PDVSA’s 2020 bond, which is backed by a 50% stake in Citgo.
But last week, the Treasury Department said it would block any attempt to enforce liens, judgments or arbitral awards by seizing Venezuelan property.
In its filing, Conoco acknowledged that actually seizing the shares in Citgo parent PDV Holding (PDVH) would be “more complicated,” but argued that it should be entitled to the same treatment as Crystallex.
“The ability of any creditor to foreclose on the PDVH Shares ... may turn on the status and interpretation of sanctions, authorizations and/or licensing from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury,” Conoco wrote.
PDVSA was about $12 million short of its required third quarter payment to Conoco and has not paid any of the required fourth quarter amount, said Conoco spokesman Daren Beaudo.
Conoco disclosed in October that it had received a total of $754 million from PDVSA through the third quarter under the $2 billion settlement agreement.
“We are working closely with the U.S. government to determine the best course of action and will comply with all applicable U.S. orders, laws and regulations” governing transactions with PDVSA, Beaudo added.
Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; editing by Chris Reese and Richard Pullin