Extension of Citgo protection would benefit creditors – Venezuela candidate Machado

By Thomson Reuters Feb 9, 2024 | 12:08 PM

By Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado on Friday said she hoped the U.S. Treasury Department would extend its protection of Houston-based refiner Citgo Petroleum, saying that would benefit creditors and the U.S. government.

Machado, who spoke to Reuters in an interview, notched a resounding primary win in October. The supreme court last month upheld a decision by the controller general which bans her from holding public office and therefore from registering for elections scheduled for the second half of 2024.

A U.S. court has so far approved claims by 18 Venezuela-linked creditors, including ConocoPhillips, Rusoro Mining and Koch Industries, to get proceeds from a coming auction of shares in the parent of Citgo. Protection of the company is set to expire April 16.

The $21.3 billion in claims stem from Venezuela’s expropriations and debt defaults since it nationalized energy and mining companies more than a decade ago.

Citgo became enmeshed in the case when the U.S. court found its parent PDV Holding – itself a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned energy giant PDVSA – liable for the South American nation’s debts in an extraordinary ruling.

Asked if she hoped the U.S. would extend the protection, Machado said yes.

“That is what we hope and I think it would be what benefits all parties, not just Venezuela, it would benefit creditors and benefit also the government of the United States,” she said.

Washington and Venezuela’s political opposition have long wanted Citgo to anchor the country’s economic future under a democratically elected government. But so far President Nicolas Maduro has remained in power despite a disputed 2018 re-election the U.S. and others say was fraudulent.

The value of the company could grow significantly if there is “a democratic transition,” Machado said, and there could be a reasonable and transparent debt restructuring.

The Citgo auction, where ConocoPhillips has emerged as a surprise bidder, could become the biggest event of its kind ever held.

Machado, a 56-year-old industrial engineer, has repeatedly rejected the possibility of a substitute, saying her landslide victory in the primary gives her a mandate and that her ban from running this year is contrived.

An election where she does not participate will not be recognized internationally, Machado said.

“Today the whole world knows that what is being done is unconstitutional,” she added, though she would not be drawn on any steps she plans to take to fight the ban.

The United States has said Maduro, who is expected to run for re-election, should not be allowed to choose his opponent.

The supreme court’s ruling said Machado supported U.S. sanctions and a U.S.-backed opposition interim government, which the Maduro government blames for the loss of Venezuelan foreign assets like Citgo.

The ruling prompted the U.S. to begin reinstating sanctions on Venezuela, with the Biden administration expected to allow a roll-back of restrictions on the oil industry to expire in April.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb, editing by David Ljunggren)