Exclusive: Venezuela shifts oil ventures’ accounts to Russian bank – document, sources

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FILE PHOTO: Cutouts depicting images of oil operations are seen outside a building of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is telling customers of its oil joint ventures to deposit sales proceeds at an account it recently opened at Russia’s Gazprombank AO, according to sources and an internal document seen by Reuters on Saturday.

PDVSA’s move follows tough, new U.S. financial sanctions imposed on Jan. 28 and aimed at blocking leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue. The United States and dozens of other nations have refused to recognize Maduro, characterizing his election last year to another six-year term as fraudulent.

Since then, PDVSA has been pressing its foreign partners at joint ventures in its Orinoco Belt producing area to formally decide whether they will continue in the projects, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks. The joint ventures’ partners include Norway’s Equinor ASA, U.S.-based Chevron Corp and France’s Total SA.

PDVSA also ordered its Petrocedeno joint venture with Equinor and Total to halt extra-heavy oil output and upgrading due to a lack of naphtha needed to dilute production, as sanctions prohibited U.S. suppliers of the fuel from exporting it to Venezuela.

“We would like to make formal your knowledge of new banking instructions to make payments in U.S. dollars or euros,” said PDVSA’s finance vice president, Fernando De Quintal, in a letter dated Feb. 8 to the PDVSA unit that supervises its joint ventures.

Even after a first round of financial sanctions in 2017, PDVSA’s joint ventures managed to keep bank accounts in the United States and Europe to receive oil-sales proceeds. They also used correspondent banks in the United States and some European nations to move money to PDVSA’s own collecting accounts in China.

PDVSA several weeks ago informed customers of the new bank directions and has begun moving the accounts of its joint ventures, which can export crude separately. The decision was made amid tension with some of its partners, which have withdrawn staff from Caracas since sanctions were imposed.

Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Corina Pons in Caracas; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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