November 20, 2019 / 11:49 PM / 15 days ago

Venezuelan oil in storage tanks to back sanctioned cryptocurrency -Maduro

CARACAS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday said some 30 million barrels of oil sitting in storage tanks would serve as backing for the OPEC nation’s state-run cryptocurrency, the petro, which has been sanctioned by the United States.

The statement came as part of a renewed push by Maduro’s socialist government to promote use of the petro in recent weeks, as inflation continues to erode Venezuelans’ meager salaries and Washington’s sweeping sanctions complicate Caracas’ ability to engage in overseas financial transactions.

“I will deliver these 30 million of barrels as a liquid, physical, material backing for the petro,” Maduro said in a state television address.

“The inventories of crude and products in storage tanks are available for immediate commercialization ... to sustain and back the operations of the sovereign Venezuelan crypto-asset, the petro.”

When the petro launched early last year, authorities had said it would be backed by 5 billion barrels in untapped crude reserves from an area without infrastructure to get it out of the ground, a Reuters special report here found. The coin also does not trade on any major cryptocurrency exchange.

The apparent shift comes as Venezuela’s crude inventories have risen in recent months, as U.S. sanctions on state oil company PDVSA - part of the Trump administration’s efforts to oust Maduro - scare away potential buyers. That has caused PDVSA to reduce crude extraction at times this year.

While inventories have drained from their early October peak above 40 million barrels, they stood at 39 million barrels at the end of October, according to data intelligence firm Kpler.

In recent weeks, officials have increasingly promoted use of the petro, stating that dozens of retailers now accept it. Reuters has been unable to find evidence of any significant use of the petro as a means of commercial exchange.

Maduro, who blames sanctions for Venezuela’s economic problems, did not provide details of how the sale of oil inventories to back the petro would work.

Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Luc Cohen Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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