Hugo Away: Chavez Ignores World Bank on Exxon

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 1/09/2012 10:31:00 AM
File this under: pre-emptive strike. It appears that the indefatigable Hugo Chavez is back on the warpath against all things American. A few days ago he publicly suspected the United States of unleashing cancer on fellow left-leaning Latin American leaders. In less improbable news, however, we now understand that his Venezuela will not abide by subsequent rulings that find the country liable for nationalizing ExxonMobil oil fields in the Orinoco Belt. At the end of last year, forum shopping ExxonMobil received a favourable $746.9 million verdict against state oil company PDVSA at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Court of Arbitration over the expropriation. While a victory nonetheless, ExxonMobil believes that this sum amounts to less than a tenth of its original investment.

Now, as most of you know, the International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is a World Bank body that does what it says on the label. That is, it addresses legal conflicts over the handling of international investment--most often cases of expropriation alike what Venezuela is said to have done to ExxonMobil. ICSID is currently set to pass judgement on ExxonMobil's investment in Venezuela alike many others who've similarly complained about expropriation at Chavez's hands.

Anticipating a more negative ruling, Chavez is already signalling that Venezuela will not honour the decision of the Washington-based institution:
Venezuela won’t accept any verdict from the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, including Exxon Mobil Corp.’s claim for its nationalized Cerro Negro project, President Hugo Chavez said. The Washington-based court is considering Exxon’s claim in one of about 20 suits filed there against the Venezuelan government. Chavez, a self-professed socialist revolutionary, has taken over assets in the energy, metals, cement and telecommunications industries.

“We won’t recognize any decisions from the ICSID,” Chavez said on state television yesterday during his first Sunday program since announcing he had cancer last year. The company is “seeking the impossible, that we pay what we will never pay.” Exxon, the world’s largest oil company by market value, was the first to abandon Venezuela after Chavez expropriated industry assets in the Orinoco heavy crude belt in 2007. The president forced foreign oil producers into joint ventures as minority partners that year and is also in arbitration with ConocoPhillips, which rejected the terms...
Despite being a buffoon in many respects, Chavez logically assumes that the World Bank's ICSID and its usual American influences will result in a less favourable outcome. Here's a thought for you, though: What if the ICSID awards ExxonMobil an even smaller amount than the ICC's International Court of Arbitration or even finds in favour of PDVSA? The willingness of PDVSA to compensate ExxonMobil for what the ICC adjudged means it believes that it's as good as it gets:
In a separate case, the New York-based International Chamber of Commerce, an arbitration court, ruled last month that state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA must pay a net $746.9 million for the nationalization. Venezuela will compensate Exxon for the Cerro Negro project as ordered by that court, Chavez said yesterday.

“If Exxon gets an award in the ICSID, the enforcement mechanisms are strong,” Michael Nolan, a partner in the Washington office of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy who has represented clients in arbitration with Venezuela, said in a telephone interview last week. “There’s a treaty.” Exxon in 2010 reduced its claim to $7 billion from $12 billion, according to PDVSA, as the Caracas-based company is known. The Venezuelan company said Jan. 2 that it would pay $255 million in cash for the International Chamber of Commerce judgment, after accounting for about $300 million in a frozen New York bank account and $191 million of Exxon debt that it will cancel.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, ExxonMobil is again forum shopping for the best result. Having been disappointed by the ICC ruling, it now awaits that of the ICSID which is supposedly considering a more strictly enforceable bilateral investment treaty (BIT) as evidence as opposed to a contract between just ExxonMobil and Venezuela. On the other hand, PDVSA is also looking for the best deal to get ExxonMobil off its back for now which it believes can be done by promptly (or at least by Venezuelan standards) paying at least part of the $746.9 million. I leave you to (enjoy?) more Hugo-isms:
“It’s insane!” Chávez said. “It’s such an insane position taken by this company than the decision [of the court] recognizes less than 10 percent of what they were asking for. How much must these companies have robbed in the last hundred years? They stole from us; they had to pay us back for damages made in the last hundred years; the capital they have wouldn’t be enough,” Chávez said.
Even Hugo knows a good deal when he sees one (perhaps). Still, I would be gobsmacked if the average Venezuelan knows what the ICSID is when most persons don't. Moreover, permanently blowing off those with the actual know-how to extract extra-heavy sour crude may not be the best course of action insofar as PDVSA does not necessarily have this expertise on its own.