(Adds comment from legal expert)
By Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Crystallex’s victory in a legal battle with Venezuela that paves the way for it to collect a $1.4 billion award hinged on a finding that state oil company PDVSA is not separate from the Venezuelan government, court documents showed on Friday.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware granted Crystallex’s request to take ownership of shares in PDVSA subsidiary of PDVH, which owns U.S.-based refiner Citgo, as part of a decade-long dispute over the 2008 nationalization of Crystallex assets.
“Crystallex has met its burden to rebut the presumption of separateness between PDVSA and Venezuela and proven that PDVSA is the alter ego of Venezuela,” wrote Judge Leonard P. Stark in the decision.
The issue has been closely watched by investors holding billions of dollars in Venezuelan bonds, which are almost all in default as the OPEC nation struggles under the collapse of its socialist economy.
Legal experts had generally believed that creditors of Venezuela, which has few foreign assets available to be seized by creditors, would have a difficult time pursuing claims against PDVSA because the two were considered separate.
Venezuela two years ago put up 49.9 percent of Citgo shares as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from Russian oil major Rosneft. The remaining 50.1 percent was set aside as collateral for PDVSA’s 2020 bond.
Judge Stark said the court had not yet determined when it would issue a writ allowing Crystallex to assume ownership of the shares of PDV Holding Inc, or what mechanism should be used to sell those shares.
“The decision could make it more complicated if other courts ignore the boundary between the government and PDVSA,” said Mark Weidemaier, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. “It expands the pool of creditors that could go after PDVSA and casts a shadow over its ability to keep its oil receivables safe.”
PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez, asked by a reporter about the decision during a press conference on Friday, declined to comment on it.
Legal counsel for Crystallex declined to comment.
PDVSA’s 2020 bond dropped 4.500 points in price to 85.500 on Friday
Bonds issued by PDVSA and Venezuela were down slightly, in line with a broad selloff in global markets on Friday. ( Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Editing by Paul Simao and Cynthia Osterman)