(Adds Conoco reaction)
CARACAS, March 26 (Reuters) - Venezuela is seeking to recuse two arbitrators on a World Bank tribunal hearing in a dispute with U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips, less than a year after the tribunal rejected a similar request regarding the same arbitrators.
The Oil Ministry said on Thursday it asked the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) to remove arbitrators Kenneth Keith and Yves Fortier from the three-person panel.
Both had shown “a marked attitude against the Republic,” the ministry said in a statement.
The dispute stems from late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s 2007 takeover of Conoco’s oil projects including two multibillion dollar heavy oil operations. ICSID in a partial ruling last year said that move was unlawful.
Last May, ICSID rejected Venezuela’s request to change the same arbitrators. Conoco at the time said the request constituted “meritless and desperate delaying tactics by Venezuela.”
“ICSID has informed us that Venezuela has filed an application to disqualify the chairman of the tribunal and the arbitrator appointed by ConocoPhillips,” Conoco said in an emailed statement. “We are confident that ICSID will decide these challenges in an expedited manner.”
The tribunal does not comment in public on cases it is handling.
Cash-strapped Venezuela has been facing over 20 major arbitration awards, most stemming from high-profile nationalizations during Chavez’s 1999-2013 rule. (Reporting by Eyanir Chinea; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Lisa Shumaker)