By Tom Hals
(Reuters) – Cash-strapped Venezuela settled a $1.2 billion arbitration claim that will prevent a creditor from stripping away its crown jewel foreign asset, the U.S.-based Citgo Petroleum Corp refining business, according to Canadian court documents.
The deal with Crystallex International Corp suspends the Canadian mining company’s push for a court-ordered auction of control of Citgo as a way of collecting on an arbitration award against Venezuela that has grown to more than $1.4 billion with interest. Citgo is based in Houston, Texas.
Venezuela completed an initial payment of $425 million, mostly in the form of “liquid securities,” on Nov. 23, according to a filing in the Ontario Court of Justice, where Crystallex sought protection from creditors in 2011.
Part of the payment was made in bonds issued by Venezuela and its state oil company, PDVSA, according to a Venezuelan finance industry source with knowledge of the issue.
Venezuela agreed to pay the remainder in installments by early 2021. If Venezuela fails to post collateral by Jan. 10 for the remaining payments, Crystallex can restart legal proceedings.
A U.S. judge in Delaware was scheduled to hear on Dec. 20 Crystallex’s arguments for a court-ordered auction of control of Citgo. The company’s three U.S. refineries are a key destination for Venezuela’s crude exports, and Citgo has been valued in the billions of dollars.
Venezuela has managed to protect Citgo even though the country has been crippled by an economic crisis and U.S. sanctions, and has halted payments on tens of billions of dollars of debt. Caracas made payments last month to investors who hold bonds secured by Citgo shares.
Venezuela expropriated a Crystallex gold mining project in 2011, which led to the 2016 arbitration award. Crystallex and Venezuela reached an agreement last year, but Caracas failed to maintain payments after transferring $75 million.
As Venezuela’s debt defaults have piled up and U.S. sanctions have isolated the country, creditors have closed in on overseas assets of PDVSA.
ConocoPhillips said in October it had received $345 million in the third quarter from PDVSA as part of a four-year deal to settle a $2 billion arbitration award stemming from the loss of assets during a 2007 nationalization drive.
Rusoro Mining Ltd reached a settlement with Venezuela in October. The Canadian mining company began pursuing Citgo this year to collect on a $1.3 billion arbitration award over the nationalization of its gold assets in the country.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Corina Pons in Caracas; Editing by David Gregorio)