U.S. judge authorizes sale of Citgo parent shares despite Treasury ban

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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

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CARACAS, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge approved the sale of shares in Venezuelan-owned refiner Citgo's parent company to pay Canadian gold miner Crystallex a $1.4 billion judgment for expropriation of its assets, even as the Treasury Department blocks the sale of the shares.

Venezuela's opposition, which took control of Citgo Petroleum Corp (PDVSAC.UL) last year after Washington sanctioned its parent company, state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA(PDVSA.UL), had unsuccessfully sought to have a ruling in favor of Crystallex thrown out, and later asked the court to delay the sale.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark in Wilmington, Delaware, late on Thursday dismissed that request and ordered the parties to confer on how the court should proceed with the share sale. PDVSA owns PDV Holding Inc, a Delaware company that ultimately owns Citgo.

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"Each day that Crystallex does not recover on its judgment is arguably something of an affront to the United States judicial system," Stark wrote. "Those days must soon come to an end."

It was not immediately evident whether such a sale of PDV Holding shares could proceed.

The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control in 2019 made clear that a specific license is needed to enforce a judgment ordering the sale of Venezuelan property on U.S. soil. The office said last year that it had not yet made a decision on Crystallex's license application.

"It is important to remember that the government of the United States ... maintains a protection (measure) that prohibits any creditor, including Crystallex, from seizing PDVSA assets," Guaido's office wrote in a statement.

Lawyers for Toronto-based Crystallex did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Venezuela's information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. President Nicolas Maduro, who retains power in Venezuela, has accused Guaido of trying to "steal" Citgo.

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Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in New York Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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