(Reuters) - A joint venture partner of state oil company PDVSA, GPB Global Resources BV, has received at least two cargoes of Venezuelan crude in recent months as part of a deal to settle pending debt from their Petrozamora project, according to two sources and a shipping document seen by Reuters.
Buyers and intermediaries in sales of Venezuelan oil are under growing pressure by the U.S. government, which since 2019 has imposed sanctions on PDVSA and some of its trading partners as part of a campaign top oust President Nicolas Maduro.
Some PDVSA partners, looking for ways to keep activity at their oil joint ventures going, have begun taking care of exports themselves so crude stored since 2019 can be sold. Draining those inventories allows an increase in production, which in many cases had fallen or halted.
With Washington pressuring buyers of Venezuelan oil, few companies are willing to do business directly with PDVSA. Having the joint venture partners act as intermediaries is one solution to that dilemma.
But under Venezuelan law, PDVSA has a monopoly on most crude exports. To avoid violating the law, the joint ventures first sell the oil to PDVSA, which then allocates the cargoes to its joint venture partners.
Earlier this year, U.S.-based Chevron Corp and Venezuela’s Suelopetrol took oil produced by their joint ventures for re-sale. The mechanism would not violate sanctions as long as sale proceeds are used for paying off a project’s debts, according to advice some of PDVSA’s partners received from legal experts.
Now, GPB is trying to do something similar to encourage production in mature fields operated by Petrozamora, a joint venture with PDVSA at Venezuela’s traditional producing region of Maracaibo Lake, sources close to the companies said.
In March, GPB received 1.1 million barrels of Boscan and Laguna crudes from PDVSA, which were exported on the Eurovoyager tanker. A second cargo of about the same size set sail in early April on the Eurodignity tanker, according to a shipping document and one of the sources.
The Eurovoyager since late April has been near Malaysia’s Linggi trans-shipment hub waiting to discharge. The Eurodignity is underway to Malaysia, according to vessel tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon.
Amsterdam-based GPB declined to comment “on specific contractual or commercial issues” but said it was focused on preventing “thefts, casualties, equipment damage and environmental damage at the oilfields of Petrozamora.”
GPB Global Resources was founded by Boris Ivanov, a former executive at Russia’s Gazprombank. Gazprombank had previously been a shareholder in GPB Global Resources, and thus an indirect shareholder in Petrozamora, but it sold its shares last year to an undisclosed investor.
“GPB Global Resources and its subsidiaries are conducting business in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations, including sanctions,” the company said in a statement.
PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. officials have this year said that swaps and other oil trading mechanisms with PDVSA allowed through 2019 might not be permitted anymore as sanctions get steeper.
After forming a venture in 2012, GPB and PDVSA invested in a steam injection program to boost Petrozamora’s output. A $1-billion credit was granted to finance investment and operational expenses in 2013, and four more fields were assigned to the project two years later.
By 2015, Petrozamora had doubled production, according to GPB’s webpage.
But output has declined in recent years, internal PDVSA documents showed, as sanctions have blocked access to financing while depriving PDVSA from its main supply contracts, including a key one to sell Petrozamora’s oil to European refiner Nynas AB.
Petrozamora produced around 72,000 barrels per day (bpd) in February, according to an internal PDVSA document seen by Reuters.
Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City, Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Venezuela and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy
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