January 8, 2019 / 11:59 PM / 3 months ago

Venezuela congress slams oil deals with U.S., French companies

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-run congress on Tuesday issued a resolution calling deals between state-run oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] and U.S. and French companies announced this week illegal, since they had not been sent to lawmakers for approval.

FILE PHOTO: A view of a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The body said the oilfield deals with France’s Maurel & Prom (MAUP.PA) and little-known U.S. company Erepla violated article 150 of Venezuela’s constitution, which requires that contracts signed between the state and foreign companies be approved by the National Assembly, as Venezuela’s congress is known.

“They are giving concessions that violate the law,” said lawmaker Jorge Millan, mentioning the two contracts.

Congress, largely stripped of its power since the opposition took it over in 2016, is unlikely to be able block the deals from going forward. But the rejection could create legal complications under a future government.

Maduro is set to be inaugurated for his second consecutive term on Thursday following a May vote considered a sham by the domestic opposition and many foreign governments. A regional bloc of Latin American countries last week called on Maduro, a protege of the late Hugo Chavez, not to take office.

The deals are part of Maduro’s effort to reverse a sharp decline in the OPEC nation’s crude output that has crippled its economy. Erepla said it would invest up to $500 million in three fields, while Maurel & Prom said it would invest up to $400 million for a 40 percent stake in an oilfield joint venture.

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Maurel & Prom did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of normal business hours in France.

A spokesman for Erepla, registered in Delaware in November and part-owned by a prominent Florida Republican donor and shipping magnate, said Venezuela’s hydrocarbons law “allows PDVSA to contract with companies like Erepla to execute field services without any additional approvals required.”

Referring to the Erepla deal during the congressional session earlier on Tuesday, Millan said that while PDVSA referred to the agreement as an oilfield service contract, “the company will be conducting oil exploration and production activities.”

Maurel & Prom Chief Executive Michel Hochard said the company would act “in accordance with the instructions given” by Maduro and Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo, according to a statement attributed to him in a PDVSA press release.

Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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