May 13, 2020 / 5:58 PM / 16 days ago

Venezuela's opposition-controlled PDVSA board criticizes Nynas deal

(Reuters) - An ad-hoc board of directors to Venezuela’s state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela [PDVSA.UL] appointed by the opposition said on Wednesday it was not informed of the company’s sale of a 35% stake in Swedish refiner Nynas.

Nynas announced on Tuesday that PDVSA, the former majority owner of the company, had reduced its stake to 15%, freeing the company from U.S. sanctions intended to oust President Nicolas Maduro. The ad-hoc board said the sale represented “harm to the nation’s wealth supported by agents of the Maduro regime.”

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil ministry immediately responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for Nynas declined to comment.

Juan Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, is recognized as the country’s rightful president by dozens of countries which argue that Maduro rigged his 2018 re-election. Maduro, a socialist who is recognized by China, Russia and other countries, has overseen an economic collapse of the once-prosperous member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Guaido last year appointed the PDVSA ad-hoc board to help protect the indebted country’s assets abroad from seizure by creditors or possible sale by the cash-strapped Maduro government, which retains control over Venezuelan territory and PDVSA’s operations within the country.

That board controls other PDVSA subsidiaries, including U.S.-based refiner Citgo Petroleum. But Nynas is out of the ad-hoc board’s hands because it has been unable to assume control of PDV Europa, PDVSA’s Netherlands-based subsidiary that controls its stake in Nynas.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which had issued licenses allowing U.S. companies to do business with Nynas despite sanctions, in October effectively banned the company from importing Venezuelan crude. The company entered a court-administered restructuring process months later.

Leon Poblete - Guaido’s envoy to Sweden, which recognizes his government - said he had been working with Nynas throughout 2019 to find a solution, but that Guaido’s representatives had not had contact with the company since the restructuring process began.

“Unfortunately they have worked behind our backs to arrive at agreements that we have not been aware of, and as a result we have now lost 35% of the shares,” Poblete said.

PDVSA retains a 15% stake in Nynas after the sale of its former 35% stake to what Nynas described as an independent Swedish foundation called Nynässtiftelsen. Finland’s Neste Oil (NESTE.HE) retains a 49.99% stake in Nynas.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Mayela Armas in Caracas; Editing by Chris Reese, Alistair Bell and Richard Chang

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