CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's top oil official on Friday accused Exxon Mobil Corp. of "judicial terrorism" and said court orders won by the oil major do not amount to confiscation of more than $12 billion in assets.
Exxon Mobil has gone after the assets of state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, in U.S., British and Dutch courts as it challenges the nationalization of a multibillion-dollar oil project by President Hugo Chavez's government.
A British court last month issued an injunction "freezing" as much as $12 billion in assets in the U.K.
But Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said: "They don't have any asset frozen. They only have frozen $300 million" in cash through a U.S. court in New York.
Ramirez called it a "transitory measure" while the state company, known as PDVSA, presents its case in New York and London. Exxon Mobil is also taking its dispute to international arbitration, which Venezuela has agreed to.
Ramirez, who is PDVSA's president, said Exxon Mobil "hasn't respected the terms of the arbitration" and said the attempts in court "don't have any direct affect over our operations, over our assets."
Ramirez said Exxon Mobil sued in New York, London and the Netherlands to dispute the terms under Chavez's nationalization last year of four heavy oil projects in the Orinoco River basin, one of the world's richest oil deposits.
"We don't have any decision by any court that's definitive," Ramirez said.
He accused the Irving, Texas-based oil major of employing "judicial terrorism" and trying to generate "financial nervousness" over PDVSA.
Exxon spokesman Tony Cudmore did not immediately return a telephone call from the Associated Press
According to documents filed last month in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Exxon Mobil has secured an "order of attachment" on about $300 million in cash held by PDVSA. A hearing to confirm the order is scheduled in New York for Feb. 13.
In a Jan. 24 "freezing injunction" by a British High Court, the court said that "until the return date or further order from the court," PDVSA "must not remove from England or Wales any of its assets which are in England or Wales up to the value of $12 billion.
The court also said that if PDVSA disobeys the order, it could be held in contempt of court and be fined or have assets seized.
Other major oil companies including France's Total, Britain's BP PLC, and Norway's StatoilHydro ASA have negotiated deals with Venezuela to continue on as minority partners in the Orinoco oil project.
ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil, however, balked at the tougher terms and have been in compensation talks with PDVSA.
Ramirez said Venezuelan officials have had "very important meetings" with ConocoPhillips Chairman Jim Mulva and have made progress toward an agreement. "I think we're on a path to achieving it," Ramirez said.