Energy

EXCLUSIVE PDVSA creditors target $600 mln in Portugal bank account -documents, source

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The corporate logo of state oil company PDVSA is seen on a tank at an oil facility in Lagunillas, Venezuela January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Isaac Urrutia/File Photo

NEW YORK/LISBON, July 23 (Reuters) - Creditors of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA are targeting funds held in the firm's accounts at Portugal's Novo Banco in an effort to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debts.

Puerto Rican bank Banco San Juan Internacional (BSJI) in July obtained an order from a Lisbon court to seize funds held in an account containing $1.3 billion at Novo Banco in compensation for PDVSA defaulting on a credit agreement with the bank in 2018, according to court documents seen by Reuters.

U.S. glass maker O-I Glass Inc (OI.N), and Houston-based oil company ConocoPhillips (COP.N) have sought similar orders to collect on arbitration awards for nationalization of assets, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

The demands for payment from the Novo Banco account total nearly $600 million, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The moves represent a new front in years-long efforts to collect on debts owed by Venezuela, which is struggling under a hyperinflationary economy and U.S. sanctions aimed at ousting President Nicolas Maduro that cut off much of its access to the U.S. financial system.

Maduro's socialist government has overseen an economic collapse in the once-prosperous OPEC nation and defaulted on more than $60 billion in bonds. It owes billions more in arbitral awards.

BSJI in November won an $83.9 million judgment against PDVSA after suing in Britain, where it had agreed with PDVSA to settle disputes, according to a British court document. The court dismissed PDVSA's argument that it could not pay due to U.S. sanctions, according to the document.

A judge in a Lisbon district court on July 8 granted BSJI the right to seize funds held in Novo Banco, according to a Portuguese court document.

That decision noted that "other international creditors are seeking to satisfy their credits from the amounts deposited in Novo Banco," without elaborating.

BSJI in December received a license from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces sanctions, permitting it to receive PDVSA funds to collect on pending debts, according to a copy of the license seen by Reuters.

Neither the July ruling in favor of BSJI nor details of the bank's OFAC license have been previously reported.

"BSJI is committed to vindicating its legal rights, no matter the counterparty, the legal forum in which we find ourselves, or any other obstacle," BSJI General Counsel Eric Bloom said in a statement.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela's oil or information ministries replied to requests for comment.

Reuters could not immediately determine whether O-I Glass, which is seeking to collect a $500 million arbitration award for the 2010 expropriation of two Venezuela plants, nor ConocoPhillips, which has an award for $8.5 billion related to the 2007 expropriation of its assets, had obtained court orders in Portugal.

O-I Glass and ConocoPhillips declined to comment.

O-I in 2017 sold its award to an unnamed Irish investment fund for $115 million, but may receive additional payments should the fund manage to collect, company filings show.

However, a Portuguese court in October 2020 extended a freeze on PDVSA's Novo Banco account due to the risk of embezzlement, money laundering or other financial crimes, meaning it is uncertain when BSJI or other creditors will be able to collect.

The bank in February 2019 blocked an attempt by Maduro's government to move the funds to banks in Uruguay, according to Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Carlos Paparoni.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Sergio Goncalves in Lisbon; Additional reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon Editing by Marguerita Choy

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