MIAMI -- One week after Caracas Capital and the Latin American Herald Tribune (LAHT)
broke the story that China's state-owned oil company Sinopec was suing Venezuela's state owned oil company PDVSA, Sinopec -- after 6 years of trying -- has announced that it is withdrawing the lawsuit as PDVSA has agreed to pay the debt.
LAHT's scoop went worldwide and even the Chinese Foreign Ministry was forced to comment on it.
"There is no need to read too much into it," Geng Shuang, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said last week. "I want to stress that China attaches high importance to the development of China-Venezuela relations, and we stand ready to continue with our all-around pragmatic cooperation with Venezuela on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and common development."
But apparently there was, as Sinopec has withdrawn the suit after Venezuela suddenly agreed to pay it.
"PDVSA agrees to pay Sinopec USA that accepts it, in relation to the Arbitration and Litigation .. the total ... of US$21,517,472.27.... PDVSA agrees to make the Settlement Payment ...in two parts: the first payment for the amount of RMB 71,500,000 to be paid on December 14, 2017, and the second payment for the amount of RMB71,500,000 to be made on January 15, 2018..." the Settlement obtained by LAHT reads.
"Here's the most telling thing about the settlement," says Russ Dallen, head of investment bank Caracas Capital, who follows Venezuela closely and uncovered the lawsuit. "The dispute was not a huge amount of money in light of the $60 billion that China has loaned to Venezuela -- it was only $23 million dollars -- but even though Venezuela sits atop the largest oil reserves in the world, PDVSA is so badly run and so cash-poor and so full of corruption that they can't even scoop together $23 million at one time to make this all go away."
Sinopec had filed suit against PDVSA in U.S. Federal District Court in Houston, Texas on November 27. On November 21, Sinopec had filed a "Request for Arbitration" at the International Court of Arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) against PDVSA and PDVSA subsidiary Bariven S.A.The Dispute
In 2010 Sinopec had partnered with PDVSA in two blocks in the Orinoco oil field, Junin 1 along with the Belarusian Oil Company Belorusneft, as well as in Junin 8. At one point, Sinopec was talking about investing $14 billion to produce 200,000 barrels per day from the field. Sinopec even had plans to build a refinery called Cabruta in Guárico to process all the oil it would be producing.
Sinopec -- China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation -- is China's largest producer and supplier of refined oil products and its second-largest crude oil producer. It is also China's largest petrochemicals producer and the world's fourth-largest ethylene producer. It is involved in oil and gas exploration and production, crude oil processing, oil products trading, transportation, distribution, and marketing as well as petrochemicals manufacturing. Sinopec has 34 refineries and 29,600 gas stations. For the first half of this year, Sinopec's operating profit was about $6 billion dollars.
With Venezuela having the largest oil reserves in the world, it was no surprise for Sinopec and its bigger state owned sister the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) to be interested in Venezuela's vast oil resources.
But those relationships have not gone the way either country would have expected as PDVSA's unreliability, corruption and incompetence have not only deterred further investment from the Chinese but are beginning to end up just like their U.S. competitors in international arbitration and the courts.
According to the lawsuit, the problem dates back to May 15, 2012, when PDVSA gave Sinopec a purchase order (PO) for 45,000 tons of steel rebar for $43.5 million.
"Sinopec delivered the Steel Rebar, but the full amount due and owing under the PO was never paid," says Sinopec in their lawsuit. "Sinopec has suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages as a result."
Now the Chinese are not quick to sue -- which is obvious from the fact that the events causing this lawsuit date back almost 6 years. "We have searched all of the federal and state litigation dockets and this is the only lawsuit with Sinopec as the plaintiff that we could find in any U.S. court," says Russ Dallen, head of investment bank Caracas Capital Markets, which first uncovered and revealed the case.
And the Chinese were apparently more than patient with their Venezuelans -- Sinopec was still trying to get Venezuela to pay for years, even in October.
"During October of 2017, Pedro Salazar, PDVSA’s in-house counsel, promised Sinopec to pay the Commercial Invoice," China alleges in the complaint. "PDVSA’s promises of payment have been empty at every turn ...." Sinopec concluded.
The court filings demonstrate a history of attempts to resolve the issue, even at the highest levels.
"During May of 2016, the President of Sinopec discussed payment of the Commercial Invoice with PDVSA's Vice President of Finance. She did not dispute that PDVSA could be held liable in the matter by Sinopec. To the contrary, she 'promised to make the payment' to Sinopec," the complaint alleges.
Likewise during September of 2016, PDVSA informed Sinopec that the Board of Directors of PDVSA agreed to a proposal to pay the Commercial Invoice. PDVSA and Sinopec subsequently exchanged drafts of a settlement of this payment to Sinopec in writing, but in the end PDVSA avoided the completion of that process.
The Chinese -- who usually take a more diplomatic tone -- had clearly run out of patience with the partners they were supposed to invest $14 billion with.
"This is not simply a case of a broken promise to pay," the lawsuit against PDVSA alleges. "Rather, this case involves a complex commercial transaction specifically calculated to leave Sinopec without a remedy."
"Each of Defendants’ conduct described herein was committed with malice and intent to injure, or in the alternative, was committed with conscious indifference to a high degree of risk to Sinopec, a risk which was known to each of the Defendants," writes Sinopec's counsel. "Each of Defendants’ conduct also constitutes actual fraud, justifying punitive damages."
Sinopec's resulting avoidance of giving any further money to Venezuela is echoed by Petrochina, the main subsidiary of China's biggest oil company China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), in an insightful September story by Bloomberg's Lucia Kassai. The money quote:
"Petrochina advised its U.S. unit -- which has been the intermediary for much of the $45 billion in loans that China has provided Venezuela in the past decade -- to avoid any involvement in future loans to Petroleos de Venezuela ...."
"These lawsuits show just how far relations between the two countries have deteriorated," says Dallen. "After $60 billion dollars, the Chinese are ending up in the same courts and international arbitrations as most others who have tried to do business with a Chavista Venezuela."
Sinopec v PDVSA - USDC SDTX - Settlement - 11 December 2017 by Latin American Herald Tribune on Scribd
Sinopec v PDVSA - USDC SDTX - Originating Complaint - 27 November 2017 by Latin American Herald Tribune on Scribd