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Venezuela’s PDVSA Investigated for Making Double Payment in the Millions

By Geraldo Reyes | El Nuevo Herald

Miami, 18 June 2005 | The Venezuelan Government's oil company PDVSA apparently paid twice for a fuel shipment valued at $14 million, according to documents that are to be the subject of investigation by the Venezuelan National Assembly's Committee for the Office of the Comptroller, according to what was announced by that committee’s chairman César Rincones.

According to the documents, known by El Nuevo Herald and in the hands of the assemblyman, the fuel was paid for twice to the firm Trifigura Beheer, owned by Wilmer Ruperti Perdomo.

Ruperti is a businessman who received ample support and is held in high esteem by the government of President Hugo Chávez for having supplied the country with fuel during the oil strike during December 2002 and January 2003.

In a brief written communiqué, the PDVSA office of public affairs answered to El Nuevo Herald that “there has been no double invoicing and that, consequently, PDVSA has not made any additional payment.”

According to Rincones, that is an answer that can only be proved by an in depth study of the company's budget.

“We are going to initiate an investigation in order to request the documentation and demonstrate whether an irregularity was committed,” said Rincones, of the opposition party Acción Democrática.

On his part, Eduardo Caballero, a spokesman for Ruperti, explained to El Nuevo Herald that the businessman was declining to make any statement about the case, and that it was up to PDVSA to explain.

According to internal PDVSA documents, known by El Nuevo Herald, the story behind the double payment is the following:

In the midst of the country's energy supply shortage brought about by the oil strike, PDVSA hired certain domestic and international companies to supply basic fuels.

One of the firms benefited was Trafigura Beheer B.V., which sold several shipments of gasoline to PDVSA, and in turn agreed to buy gasoil, liquefied gas, and fuel oil from the government oil company.

Because debits were incurred by both parties, PDVSA as well as Trafigura Beheer, a netting agreement (a crossing of accounts) was reached, which was signed on 4 April 2003 between PDVSA and Ruperti’s company.

But a detailed analysis of the agreement by PDVSA officials uncovers the presence of an alleged double invoicing for a shipment of 310,400 barrels of gasoline that entered Puerto La Cruz aboard the ship Bolero in February of 2003. The total price of the shipment was $14,198,769.

The two suspected billings were detected, one on an invoice payment, and the other on the netting agreement.

On page two of the netting agreement, of which El Nuevo Herald has a copy, Trafigura appears to be billing PDVSA for six shipments that go from June 2000 until February 2003. The sixth shipment pertains to the 314,400 barrels on the ship Bolero.

This shipment had already been acknowledged and paid by a “pres-comp 32" receipt of payment, for the same amount, the identical kind of fuel and at the same price, according to the receipt dated 19 February 2003, in the hands of El Nuevo Herald.

This first payment, nevertheless, was not made to Trafigura but to Interpetrol y Trafigura de Venezuela, a firm to which Ruperti is linked as owner.

The drafts for the first payment were deposited in a Citibank account on Brickell Avenue in Miami under the name of Interpetrol y Trafigura de Venezuela.

The existence of the agreement and the payment receipt, which were mentioned in a questionnaire sent to PDVSA by El Nuevo Herald, was not denied by the office of communications of that Venezuelan entity.

What PDVSA does not admit is the netting agreement ever having any validity.

“The netting agreement referred to never took effect,” thus affirmed the response from PDVSA, even though it did not explain the reason.

The company admitted that there is a routine internal inquiry underway.

“Furthermore, the current reviews that PDVSA is conducting of its commercial operations are part of its routing auditing activity,” added a communiqué from the Corporate Office of Public Relations.

Translation by W.K.

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