CARACAS, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-run congress said on Tuesday it had set aside $20 million held in accounts in the United States to pay for litigation abroad as part of efforts to protect the country’s offshore assets from lawsuits by creditors.
Offshore assets including U.S. refiner Citgo have long been seen as attractive by investors holding the country’s defaulted bonds and companies seeking to be paid back for the nationalization of their holdings.
The funds are to be drawn from accounts previously held by the government of President Nicolas Maduro but frozen last year after the United States imposed a broad set of sanctions meant to force a change of government.
“(They are) state funds used to represent and defend the assets of the state in pending litigation,” legislator Adriana Pichardo of the Popular Will opposition party said in a telephone interview.
Lawmakers from the First Justice opposition party objected to the measure on the grounds that it did not clearly identify what cases would be financed.
Jose Ignacio Hernandez, whom opposition leader Juan Guaido has tapped as a special prosecutor, said in a statement that the U.S. Treasury Department would need to grant licenses for the use of the funds, which are to be destined exclusively for legal fees.
The Treasury Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Venezuela’s congress set aside $3.5 million in U.S funds in November for such litigation.
Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president, has made defending Venezuela’s offshore assets a top priority, and has appointed allies to run Citgo.
Canadian mining company Crystallex has sued in the United States, seeking to seize shares in Citgo to collect $1.4 billion for the takeover of its assets by late socialist President Hugo Chavez. (Reporting by Mayela Armas and Vivian Sequera; Editing by Peter Cooney)