May 13, 2020 / 11:34 PM / 16 days ago

Venezuela's congress to voice concern to U.S. over Nynas sanctions removal

May 13 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-held congress plans to voice concern to the U.S. government over its removal of sanctions on Swedish refiner Nynas AB after Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, sold most of its stake in the firm, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

Nynas said on Tuesday that PDVSA was no longer its majority owner after selling a 35% stake in the company to a Swedish foundation. Nynas did not disclose the terms of the sale.

The transaction paved the way for the U.S. Treasury Department, which sanctioned PDVSA in 2019 as part of its plan to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, to unblock Nynas, which is now 49.99%-owned by Finnish biofuel producer and oil refiner Neste, 15%-owned by PDVSA and 35%-owned by the foundation.

The National Assembly’s energy committee agreed on Wednesday to prepare a resolution declaring the deal null, as it was not approved by congress and was negotiated by representatives of Maduro, who is considered a usurper by the opposition and dozens of countries, said committee Chairman Elias Matta.

“We want to alert all nations and make clear in the agreement that we present that no deal struck with the current regime will be approved by us,” Matta said in a telephone interview.

The resolution will be presented to the full National Assembly at its next meeting, and Matta said that once it is approved, the lawmakers would send it to the governments involved in the deal, including Sweden, the Netherlands - where Nynas’ parent company is located - and the United States.

Washington has been the Venezuelan opposition’s most robust ally in its efforts to oust Maduro, a socialist who has overseen an economic collapse in the once-prosperous OPEC nation.

The United States and dozens of other countries recognize Juan Guaido, the National Assembly’s leader, as the rightful president.

That helped Guaido, who is seeking to protect Venezuela’s assets abroad from seizure by creditors or possible sale by cash-strapped Maduro, attain control of PDVSA assets such as U.S.-based refiner Citgo Petroleum.

But his representatives never managed to take control of Nynas.

“If they do not recognize Maduro’s government, how are they going to recognize an administrative act by Maduro’s government? It makes no sense,” said Luis Stefanelli, another opposition lawmaker on the committee.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces sanctions, declined to comment.

A third person with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was unlikely the resolution would prompt a reversal allowing PDVSA to keep its stake in Nynas, but it could sway Washington to reverse its decision to lift sanctions. (Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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