Exclusive: Middlemen have left Venezuela’s PDVSA with $21.2 billion in unpaid bills

 (Reuters) – Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA has accumulated $21.2 billion in accounts receivable, according to documents viewed by Reuters, after turning to dozens of little known intermediaries three years ago to export its oil under U.S. sanctions.

The internal disclosure of the enormous amount of unpaid sales – about 84% of PDVSA’s total value of invoiced shipments – reveals for the first time the depths of revenue losses due to the withdrawal of established oil company buyers since 2020.

The scale of the receivables explains a January freeze on supply contracts by PDVSA’s new boss Pedro Tellechea, who sought to halt unpaid cargoes immediately after taking office. A series of attempts to tighten contract terms came after some vessels absconded without payment in recent years.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday accepted the resignation of oil minister Tareck El Aissami, who served the government for two decades, amid a corruption probe focused on PDVSA and the judiciary. In recent days, the investigation has resulted in the jailing of dozens of officials.

El Aissami has said he will collaborate with the probe.

According to documents provided to the office of Venezuela’s attorney general during a long-standing audit of PDVSA contracts, out of a total $25.27 billion in oil exports between January 2020 and this month, PDVSA was only able to confirm the reception of $4.08 billion in payments excluding some swaps like the one with Cuba, which means it has only successfully cashed 16% of exports, according to its count.

POTENTIALLY UNRECOVERABLE

The $21.2 billion in commercial accounts receivable includes about $3.6 billion of potentially unrecoverable bills tied to tankers that left the country without prepaying at least a portion of the cargoes’ value, even though customers had agreed to those terms, according to the documents.

The accounts receivable also includes an outstanding balance to be paid by Iran for its receipt of cargoes from Venezuela since 2020 as part of an oil swap between the two countries, the documents show.

Some customers have fought PDVSA’s count of failed payments by providing supporting documents that had not been registered with the state company’s contract administration system, a company source said.

PDVSA and Venezuela’s oil ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

During the audit, PDVSA’s departments of International Finances and Accountability said that according to documentation registered by the company’s contract system, executives at the Trade and Supply division had been authorizing cargoes to leave Venezuelan waters without completing the payment verification process.

EXECUTIVES ARRESTED

PDVSA’s former vice president of supply and trade, Antonio Perez Suarez, and about 20 executives who worked for him have been arrested, according to people familiar with the matter.

Reuters was unable to reach any representative of Perez Suarez for comment.

When the United States first imposed oil sanctions on PDVSA in 2019 in an effort to oust Maduro after a reelection that was denounced as a sham by opponents, PDVSA turned to units of Russian oil firm Rosneft (ROSN.MM) to trade most of its sales to Asia and to compensate for the loss of its main market, the United States.

But those Rosneft units faced sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2020, forcing PDVSA to first resort to a Mexico-based network of intermediaries that were also sanctioned by Washington, and later to dozens of less known middlemen, which exacerbated the failed payment issue.

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