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Citgo top executives arrested over alleged loan deal

21 Nov 2017, 8.49 pm GMT

Citgo top executives arrested over alleged loan deal

Caracas, 21 November (Argus) — The acting chief executive and finance vice president of Venezuelan state-owned PdV's Houston-based subsidiary Citgo was arrested on corruption charges in Caracas today, acting attorney general Tarek Saab announced in a statement.

Jose Pereira was arrested at PdV's Caracas headquarters and charged with corruption for secretly trying to negotiate a $4bn loan with US investment fund Apollo Global Management, Dubai-based Frontier Management Group and Swiss-based intermediary Mangore Sarl, Saab said.

Five Venezuelan oil executives described by Saab as Citgo board members were also arrested and charged with corruption related to the aborted loan deal that was signed in June 2017, Saab added.

The other arrests were Citgo vice presidents and board members Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Luis Zambrano, a spokesperson for the attorney general told Argus.

None of the six executives or attorneys on their behalf could be reached for comment.

Citgo dismissed any operational impact from the arrests.

Citgo said it was "looking into the current investigation related to Citgo officials by the Venezuelan Prosecutor's Office to better understand the situation" and would use "the full strength of our resources to bring prompt resolution to this matter." The company said it had "procedures in place to ensure ongoing operations and the continuous supply of product to our customers."

It is not clear why the six executives were in Caracas at the time of their arrests.

The spokesperson confirmed that a handcuffed Pereira was escorted out of PdV's Caracas headquarters today.

Saab said the $4bn loan had been arranged without the Venezuelan government's explicit authorization or knowledge, and would have mortgaged 100pc of Citgo's assets as collateral for the $4bn loan.

The energy ministry and parent company PdV also had no prior knowledge of the secret loan, Saab added.

Pereira and the five Citgo board members "placed Citgo in danger with corruption of the most rotten nature," Saab said.

The six Citgo executives are currently detained at the national intelligence service (Sebin) headquarters in Caracas. A Sebin spokesman referred all queries to the attorney general's office.

PdV and the energy ministry declined to comment. Calls to Frontier Management Group and Apollo Global Management were not returned.

Saab said yesterday that 50 PdV executives have been ordered arrested since August on corruption charges. He said the expanding anti-corruption probe of PdV's core operations seeks to restore "decency and health" to the state-owned oil industry, which generates over 95pc of Venezuela's annual hard currency revenues.

Critics say the crackdown is a selective campaign by the government aimed at consolidating control of PdV by eliminating managers associated with former longtime energy minister and PdV chief executive Rafael Ramirez, who currently serves as Venezuela's UN ambassador in New York.

Many of the arrested PdV executives also have ties to current energy minister and former PdV chief executive Eulogio Del Pino.

The arrests come at a time of financial distress for PdV, which fell into selective default on several bond payments in recent weeks. Citgo itself has faced rising operational pressures from US financial sanctions on PdV that were imposed in August. Senior PdV officials are also subject to targeted US sanctions.

Citgo, which owns three US refineries and extensive midstream infrastructure, is considered PdV´s most valuable remaining asset. Last year the government negotiated 51pc of Citgo´s equity as collateral in a bond restructuring. The remaining 49pc was pledged as collateral on a Russian loan.

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