PDVSA Liking for Offshore Companies

Aside from ethical questions, the logic of a private entity opening an offshore company seems elementary —to declare its profits in a territory where it can pay less tax than it should in its place of origin. But when it comes to a state-owned company like Petróleos de Venezuela, which is not obliged to pay taxes - and therefore does not need to evade them - it is difficult to understand why within its business scheme there is contracting with companies established in tax havens and there is even the creation of their own subsidiaries in these places. What does the Venezuelan public treasury gain from this?

10 December 2017

"Managing and operating alone or in conjunction with other corporations, individuals or companies all types of facilities, refineries, terminals, pipelines, ports, jetties or quays for the transportation, handling, processing, refining and storage of oil, gas, coal, oils and fuels of all kinds, lubricants and hydrocarbons of any kind and all sorts of products or byproducts and liquids in general."

As the metaphor of that player who is fourth bat, catcher and boyfriend of the godmother of the team, the previous paragraph is just the first of eight objectives set by company Pdvsa Marketing Internacional (Aruba) AVV, established on that Caribbean island with a capital of $ 30,000, more than a modest amount for the pretensions of also issuing and buying bonds, participate in the liquidation of companies or participate in "all types of contracts with legal purpose". This is stated in the company's articles of incorporation, one of the 13.4 million documents obtained in a leak of the Appleby law firm by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism, better known as Paradise Papers. 

The document states that the company was incorporated on July 22, 1991, and was relaunched in 2009 with the signatures of Asdrúbal Chávez -then vice president of Trade and Supplies of Pdvsa and current president of Citgo- and Eudomario Carruyo, then vice president of finance of the state oil company, fallen in disgrace after being blamed for participating in the diversion of resources that ended with the Pension Fund of the company. Although there are no clear signs to notice if the company made any contract through that Aruban branch and from which it does not leave a formal registration anywhere, the organization of this company in a tax haven is far from being an isolated practice in the times of the “redder than red” PDVSA.

Also in 2009, Pdvsa Gas contracted the services of the Appleby law firm for the incorporation of company Pdvsa Gas Accro Ltd - replacing another company known as Accroven Holdings Ltd - which was registered in Barbados in September of that year with a wide range of objectives and more ambitious purposes related to gas exploitation.

In 2010, Ricardo Coronado, the then general manager of the PDVSA Offshore Division, signed the as the sole director. After climbing high positions within the industry, he was accused of corruption by the Comptroller's Office Committee of the National Assembly and left the country long before the raid that now has directors like Eulogio del Pino and Nelson Martínez, among 63 other workers of the company, behind bars.

Although Pdvsa Gas's finance department did not officially respond to a questionnaire about the scope and operation of that company, not specified in any management report, a source from the oil company confirmed that the office is active, but did not specify the nature of its activities.

Why a State-Owned Company Opens Offices in a Tax Haven?

The leak of law firm Appleby also reveals that company WillPro Energy Services (Pigap II) was acquired by Pdvsa Gas - specialized in gas injection and compression services - for 112.4 million dollars, which is registered in the Cayman Islands, although it has an established office in Maturín, state of Monagas. Many unsuccessful attempts were made to establish a telephone contact with that branch.

Why a state-owned company opens offices in a tax haven? After clarifying the point that PDVSA has no need to evade taxes in Venezuela, a lawyer experienced in the organization of financial entities and offshore companies assured Armando.info that the first explanation can be found in the exchange control in force in Venezuela since 2003 and the possibility offered by these companies to have a business relationship with the oil company without passing through that control.

"The payments in US dollars received by an offshore company, even from Pdvsa, do not have to pass through the Central Bank of Venezuela," specifies the expert referring to the amendment to the BCV Law that released Pdvsa from the obligation to pass all its profits to this entity. "This made it easier to place foreign exchange in other places like Fonden or offshore companies."

The basic problem with these placements is their lack of transparency. Being out of Venezuelan jurisdiction, the Venezuelan Office of the Comptroller or the National Assembly can hardly ask for any accountability, especially if Pdvsa does not make these companies public. In its official organization chart, the state company only recognizes PDV Insurance Company (Pdvic) as the only company established in Bermuda.

"The ought-to-be is that Pdvsa does not have intermediaries and contracts directly, so that the companies can be duly audited"

The other relevant point is that by organizing subsidiaries in tax havens, Petróleos de Venezuela has the possibility of subcontracting without going through the bidding process established in Venezuelan laws. "The offshore company can, by nature, receive payments and also pay to any supplier practically without controls. If it is an offshore that is managed as a Pdvsa subsidiary, the bidding is also avoided because it is the company itself acquiring a good or service from a subsidiary. It does not mean that this happens, but it gives room to all kinds of subcontracting, surcharge and collection of commission."

An example of these uncontrolled management was what Pdvsa Insurance Company (Pdvic) did by giving 66.7 million dollars to a financial fund –Fractal Fund Management– that ended up entangled in the Ponzi scheme in which over 500 million dollars of the state oil company were lost. "The ought-to-be is that Pdvsa does not have intermediaries and contracts directly, so that the companies can be duly audited," concludes the lawyer.

The number and broadness of the objectives established by these companies in their articles of incorporation also contributes to the possibility of making all kind of contracting with any type of company. Tax havens allow these lax definitions to facilitate the establishment of companies, unlike the laws of other countries, including Venezuela, which order more specific definitions.

Another well-known case of a detrimental subcontracting for the Venezuelan public treasury was the lease of the Aban Pearl platform from offshore company Petromarine Energy Services Ltd, registered in Barbados. The platform, which collapsed on April 13, 2010, was contracted with a surcharge of up to 50 million dollars, according to the complaint filed by the Commission of the Comptroller's Office of the National Assembly with the Venezuelan Prosecutor's Office.

With the first leak of documents known as Panama Papers - that time from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca– it was learned that Pdvsa’s liking for offshore companies was enough to create the joint venture Veniran Petrochemical Company in August 2007 between the Corporación Petroquímica de Venezuela (Pequiven) and its Iranian counterpart, National Petrochemical Company, then registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The prosecutor imposed by the Constituent, Tarek William Saab, reported this week the contracting of Pdvsa with company Petrosaudi Oil Services, which he qualified as a company without experience in offshore drilling, based in Barbados, without giving details about the potential loss for the Venezuelan state for contracting that company.

However, in the Paradise Papers there is proof that Pdvsa, through Petrosaudi Oil Services (Venezuela) Ltd, signed two drilling contracts, one, in October 2007, for 120 million dollars, which they called Neptune Drilling Contract; and the other, in September 2010, for 130 million dollars, which they called Saturn Drilling Contract.

Petrosaudi website

Another leak shows that Pdvsa formed a joint venture (Petrolera Güiria) to exploit crude oil and gas in the Gulf of Paria together with the Italian oil company ENI and an offshore company called Ine Paria - previously called EOG Resources Venezuela Ltd -, registered in the Cayman Islands and with an office in Caracas. With the same company, it also created another joint venture (Petroparia) with the participation of the Chinese state company Sinopec. The then president of the Venezuelan Petroleum Corporation, Eulogio del Pino, who until a week ago was the "strong man" of Pdvsa, signed the papers of those companies on behalf of Venezuela.

Although the legality in the organization of these companies is not under discussion, Pdvsa does not give an official account of its relationship with most of them and, in some cases -as Pdvsa Gas Accro Ltd, PDVSA Marketing International (Aruba) AVV-, it does not even mention them in their management reports, much less the type of operations they do or the cost they represent to the State. So far, the only contribution of Pdvsa’s acquired liking in contracting offshore companies is the thickening of the veil of its operations.

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