UPDATE 1-Venezuela loses bid to recuse arbitrators in Conoco dispute
(Adds comment from Conoco)
CARACAS, July 1 (Reuters) - A World Bank tribunal has rejected Venezuela's request to recuse two arbitrators in a dispute with U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips linked to the 2007 nationalization of the company's assets in the OPEC nation.
The Oil Ministry said in March it asked the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to remove arbitrators Kenneth Keith and Yves Fortier from the three-person panel for their "marked attitude against the Republic."
The ICSID's administrative council rejected the request, describing Venezuela's complaints as "unsubstantiated" and "irrelevant," according to a document posted on its website (goo.gl/RrMyIv).
Conoco is seeking compensation over late socialist leader Hugo Chavez's 2007 takeover of projects including two multibillion dollar heavy oil operations. ICSID in a partial ruling last year said that move was unlawful.
"We are pleased with ICSID's decision to reject the challenges made by Venezuela to remove the Tribunal's Chairman and ConocoPhillips' appointed arbitrator," said Kris Sava, a spokesperson for Conoco.
Venezuela's attorney general's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cash-strapped Venezuela faces over 20 major arbitration awards, most stemming from high-profile nationalizations during Chavez's presidency. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Girish Gupta; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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