Rival Citgo boards fight over $57 million oil cargo stranded in Venezuelan waters

FILE PHOTO: The Citgo Petroleum Corporation headquarters are pictured in Houston, Texas, U.S., February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

(Reuters) - Rival boards of directors of U.S. refiner Citgo Petroleum Corp, one appointed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and another named by opposition leader Juan Guaido, are disputing control of $57 million of crude oil stranded at sea.

In a Tuesday filing in a U.S. court, the Guaido-appointed board alleged that the Maduro-appointed board sent a letter to the captain of the Gerd Knutsen oil tanker requesting that 950,000 barrels of crude on board be released to Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA, which owns Citgo.

The Guaido-appointed board is requesting a court order declaring the letter null, saying that the crude belongs to Citgo and not its parent company.

The dispute comes after a Delaware Chancery Court judge in August confirmed the Guaido-appointed board’s right to control the company. Guaido, the president of the opposition-held National Assembly, was recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by the United States and dozens of other countries in January.

Norway-based Knutsen Group, which owns the tanker, refused to release the crude after the tanker’s captain received the Nov. 28 letter signed by Fernando de Quintal, a member of the board of directors appointed by Maduro, the Guaido board said in its filing.

Knutsen did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent after regular Norwegian business hours. PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did attorneys for the Maduro-appointed Citgo board.

In mid-January, the Gerd Knutsen tanker loaded crude at Venezuela’s Jose terminal, bound for Citgo’s refineries, Refinitiv Eikon data show.

But after Washington slapped sanctions on PDVSA on Jan. 28 as part of its effort to oust Maduro, it joined more than a dozen other tankers carrying Venezuelan oil stranded off the U.S. Gulf Coast, Europe, the Caribbean and Venezuela.

The tanker is anchored in the Gulf of Paria off Venezuela’s eastern coast.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Editing by Richard Chang