* Canadian miner awarded $750 mln in arbitration decision
* Dispute centers on Las Brisas gold concession
* Major court decisions expected this year-Gold Reserve
By Alexandra Ulmer
CARACAS, April 16 (Reuters)- - Gold Reserve Inc, a small Canadian miner that lost its crown jewel in a 2009 expropriation, is targeting Venezuelan assets as it seeks to collect a $750 million arbitration award that would put new strains on the cash-strapped government’s finances.
With higher-profile cases including Exxon and ConocoPhillips mired in delays, a technicality in Gold Reserve’s case filing has allowed it to aggressively seek out new jurisdictions to execute its award.
Its actions could affect bondholders. Gold Reserve said on Monday it has served various Luxembourg banks with writs of garnishment relating to around $700 million in interest payments on Venezuelan bonds and funds. The company targeted banks seen as paying or transfer agents.
The dispute puts more pressure on President Nicolas Maduro amid mounting worries about Venezuela’s ability to service debt and stave off a potential technical default due to unpaid arbitration awards.
“We are definitely looking at other jurisdictions,” Gold Reserve’s president, Doug Belanger, told Reuters on Thursday. “Anything that’s a commercial asset of the Venezuelan government is on the table.”
He said Gold Reserve is eyeing countries with the “best jurisdiction, best law and most assets.” He declined to give further details.
The company is also engaged in legal wrangling in France, Luxembourg and the United States, with decisions expected this year, Belanger said.
Officials at Venezuela’s petroleum and mining ministry were not immediately available to comment.
As a major crude producer and exporter, socialist-run Venezuela has considerable international assets. And with 96 percent of its income stemming from oil revenue amid a deep recession, the stakes are high.
The country owns major U.S refining unit Citgo Petroleum Corp and has stakes in the Chalmette refinery in Louisiana, as well as a network of refineries in the Caribbean, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
But Venezuela has also moved to sell some of these units, raising questions whether Caracas wants to reduce exposure to avoid potential asset grabs, although the government has said it would pay negative awards.
Legal adversaries have blasted Venezuela’s moves to recuse arbitrators or request revisions and annulments to awards as tactics designed to stave off paying.
Gold Reserve took its case to an International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) tribunal, which in September determined Venezuela must pay for the termination. The award is enforceable in any of the 150-plus member states party to the New York Convention.
In parallel, Gold Reserve continues to talk with government representatives, Belanger said.
“There have been fruitful discussions recently,” he said, declining to comment on whether any settlement offers were on the table. “Venezuela has an opportunity to settle this.”
Venezuela in 2009 nationalized Gold Reserve’s Las Brisas concession, one of Latin America’s largest gold deposits, as part of a policy to increase state control of key economic sectors.
Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America Strategy at Jefferies, said it’s unclear how much cash Venezuela has on hand to pay the award, which bears interest of Libor plus 2 percent.
“My initial thinking was that Venezuela will use delay tactics as long as possible but if there’s a risk of a technical default they’ll pay Gold Reserve,” she said. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Leslie Adler)