(Bloomberg) — Venezuela’s National Assembly, led by interim president Juan Guaido, voted to select board members for state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA and U.S. refining arm Citgo, as it moves to protect the country’s assets abroad from embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
The appointments amount to parallel boards that will attempt to control the two companies that are critical to Venezuela’s economy. They are meant to be ad hoc boards, meaning that members will be working on specific tasks and for a limited period of time.
“Venezuelan people, this is an historical agreement that protects Venezuelan assets abroad for the country’s development,” Guaido said following the vote. “The goal of these appointments is for us to be able to perform our duties while there is usurpation of power, working hard for the whole country.”
While Maduro continues to rule over Venezuela’s institutions, PDVSA and armed forces, Guaido is attempting to whittle away at his control of assets with the support of the U.S. and more than 30 countries that have recognized him as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
But today’s action raises a host of legal and financial questions. It’s not clear how Guaido would ultimately gain the keys to PDVSA’s headquarters or control over production at home unless Maduro were pushed out and the opposition were to win new elections. A path to controlling Houston-based Citgo seems more plausible yet that, too, is fraught with complex legal issues over the rightful management.
Maduro, who decries the developments this year as being akin to a coup orchestrated by the U.S. with Guaido as a figure head, says he’ll defend Citgo through legal action. A handful of creditors are also lining up to stake a claim to Citgo to try to satisfy pending demands and debts.
Venezuela’s oil industry, essentially the country’s sole source of hard currency in an economy in distress, is the key to any rebuilding effort if Guaido’s attempts at pushing Maduro out of power are to succeed. Production has collapsed in recent years and sanctions currently hinder crude exports to the U.S. — Venezuela’s biggest market — forcing current PDVSA officials to seek alternative markets in a hurry to keep the revenue flowing.
The officials named to PDV Holding, Citgo Holding and Citgo Petroleum Corp. are all currently living outside Venezuela to prevent them from being detained by the government, a legislative source said. Some former PDVSA workers have been receiving calls from Guaido’s team to see whether they’d be willing to return to the company. Many oil executives and engineers left or were fired around the time of a crippling two-month oil strike that ended in 2003. Others have resigned over the years.
PDVSA’s board will include former El Hatillo mayor David Smolansky and Ricardo Prada, an energy industry consultant.
Named to Citgo’s board are Luisa Palacios, New York-based head of Latin America at Medley Global Advisors; Angel Olmeta, a former Citgo chief operating officer in the early 1990’s; Luis Urdaneta, a former vice president at PDVSA, and Edgar Rincon, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant in Venezuela and currently a vice president at Houston-based Nabors Industries, a land-drilling contractor.
Citgo’s vice president of compliance and chief strategy officer Rick Esser, currently on the board, is being invited to stay.
Guaido may announce Gustavo Baquero as the president of the PDVSA ad-hoc board as early as Friday, according to people familiar with the plans.
The boards “will work to remove existing sanctions and guarantee the refineries’ operations,” said congressman Elias Matta, head of the energy and oil commission. “They will operate under U.S. laws.”
Citgo declined to comment on the board appointment. Urdaneta, Olmeta and Rincon didn’t immediately return LinkedIn messages and Esser didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The National Assembly justified its power to name new boards based on article 34 of a special decree it issued last week that regulates the democratic transition in the South America nation. The provision essentially proclaims that all other national laws are voided and therefore the new boards will exert control over PDVSA and U.S. operations.
“All legal decisions are being done following Venezuelan laws and we expect that the U.S. government will recognize PDVSA’s and Citgo’s new executives and officials,” said Yon Goicoechea, a close ally of Guaido who is leading a team focused on the energy sector.
–With assistance from Lucia Kassai and Jose Enrique Arrioja.
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