Trinidad Court Recognizes ConocoPhillips' Claim Against Venezuela

© JHVEPhoto / Adobe Stock
© JHVEPhoto / Adobe Stock

A Trinidad and Tobago court order has granted ConocoPhillips the right to enforce a $1.33 billion claim against Venezuela for past expropriations, a decision that could complicate proposed offshore gas ventures between Trinidad and Venezuela.

The decision on Wednesday gave the U.S. oil company the right to seize any compensation to Venezuela from joint gas projects with Trinidad. The countries and energy companies NGC, Shell and BP are looking to develop major offshore gas fields.

Since winning arbitration awards against Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA, Conoco has sought to enforce the rulings in different courts, including in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

"The order gives to the claimant a green light to be able to enforce the judgment in Trinidad if they can establish there are assets held by the defendants or there is money which is owed to the defendant by entities in Trinidad and Tobago," High Court Judge Frank Seepersad told Reuters in an phone interview.

Conoco declined to comment. PDVSA, Shell and BP did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Trinidad's NGC gas company has not been served with documents related to this matter, and continues with its partners and stakeholders to progress work on a gas project, spokesperson Lisa Burkett said.

PDVSA paid Conoco about $700 million through a settlement agreement, but ceased payments in late 2019. Conoco is the largest claimant in a Delaware case that will auction shares in the parent of Venezuela-owned refiner Citgo Petroleum to pay creditors seeking more than $20 billion in compensations.

Ryan Lance, Conoco's CEO, this month told Wall Street analysts the company is involved in the Citgo court case "to get the money that they owe us for the judgments that we have against the Venezuelan government for the expropriation of our assets."

This week, the U.S. Treasury Department granted a license to BP and NGC to develop the Cocuina-Manakin gas fields in the maritime border between the two countries. Another license for a larger gas project, called Dragon, which lies in Venezuela's waters, was issued by Washington last year.

None of the projects have declared financial viability or started operations, but negotiations between the two nations have progressed to compensate PDVSA for pasts investment in the fields.

Conoco, whose arbitration case against PDVSA before the International Chamber of Commerce gave the company the right to recoup up to $1.89 billion plus interest for the expropriation of its oil assets in Venezuela, said in its request to Trinidad's High Court that it would try to attach any reimbursement paid to PDVSA.

"By this application, the claimants seek... recognition of the award; judgment in the terms of the award set forth in the draft order accompanying the application; and permission to enforce the award," the document said.

The court order provides PDVSA seven days to challenge the decision favoring Conoco, according to the court documents.

(Reuters - Reporting by Curtis Williams and Marianna Parraga; Editing by David Gregorio)

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