Citgo Petroleum director Luisa Palacios to leave board at month's end -company

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The logo of PDVSA's U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum is seen at a gas station in Stowell, Texas, U.S., June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman/

HOUSTON, March 19 (Reuters) - Citgo Petroleum Corp's (PDVSAC.UL) Luisa Palacios will leave the board of the eighth-largest U.S. oil refiner at month's end, the company said in a statement on its website.

Palacios, who joined the refining firm in February 2019 when it severed ties from its parent company, Venezuela's state oil firm PDVSA, stepped down as chairperson last October.

The executive is also leaving her position at the Simon Bolivar Foundation, the company's charitable arm, according to people familiar with the matter, completely exiting the company.

A Citgo spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the release.

The Houston-based refiner is owned by Venezuela, but the South American nation's opposition-led Congress in 2019 appointed new leadership, laying off executives named by the government of President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election was widely denounced as a sham. Maduro retains control of the Venezuelan military and PDVSA.

"Luisa has provided vital service to our company and has made enormous contributions during a pivotal time in the history of Citgo," said Chief Executive Carlos Jorda in a note to employees. "The company is stronger and well positioned for the future because of her efforts."

Palacios, 51, had previously resigned from the boards of PDV Holding and Citgo Holding.

In a letter to staff, she wrote that she had accepted a position at an academic institution. A former senior managing director at economic consultancy Medley Global Advisors, she spent two years as a non-resident fellow at Columbia University's Center for Global Energy Policy.

During her two-year tenure at Citgo, the refiner's board recruited its current CEO, its COO Edgar Rincon and its CFO, John Zuklic. It also refinanced debt and fought off an attempt by Maduro's administration to reclaim control over the company.

Citgo, whose board is now led by Venezuelan Jose Ramon Pocaterra, still faces efforts by PDVSA creditors to claim shares in its parent companies over unpaid debts. A U.S. court has backed the claims, but a potential sale of the shares has been barred by U.S. executive orders protecting the company.

In the last year, Citgo struggled financially along with other refiners as the pandemic slashed demand for oil products. It has not yet released 2020 results, but posted a net loss of $412 million for the first nine months of the year.

Reporting by Gary McWilliams

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Thomson Reuters

Focused on energy-related sanctions, corruption and money laundering with 20 years of experience covering Latin America's oil and gas industries. Born in Venezuela and based in Houston, she is author of the book "Oro Rojo" about Venezuela's troubled state-run company PDVSA and Mom to three boys.