CARACAS, (Reuters) – The state oil company at the heart of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s anti-U.S. revolution manipulated exports, top officials told U.S. embassy staff in return for favours, Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported yesterday, citing embassy cables released by WikiLeaks.
Senior officials from PDVSA and the energy ministry had quicker access to U.S. visas after telling the embassy how the company double-counted oil production and manipulated the price of Venezuela’s crude, El Pais reported, citing the cables.
“A senior member of the energy ministry … admitted that at times PDVSA exported oil to be stored overseas and then imported it again to refine and export it again, counting twice the same production,” the El Pais story said.
Chavez’s project to build a socialist society is financed by oil exports and in 2007 he exerted greater control over the industry by making PDVSA the majority partner in projects that had been foreign-owned.
PDVSA officials are expected to be fiercely loyal to the government and the accusation they revealed secrets to jump the line for travel visas is likely to anger Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.
Chavez fired some 20,000 PDVSA employees in 2003 after managers led a shutdown of the oil industry in a failed bid to oust him.
Venezuela says it produces some 3 million barrels of oil per day, numbers which the United States and OPEC have long disputed. Since 2008 production has fallen as a result of OPEC output cuts and problems at oil installations. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez last month admitted it was not easy to raise output.
Staff at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were told to watch for potentially useful Venezuelan officials standing in line at the visa counter and let them skip the line, El Pais said.
The tactic appears to have been successful — officials also revealed that PDVSA sold oil to China for as little as $5 a barrel, suffered from growing problems of quality control and used refined products to raise the price of Venezuela crude, it said.
Venezuelan oil export data sometimes shows that small amounts of oil is stored offshore then reimported.
Reuters was not able to verify the content of the leaked cables and they were not available for viewing on the WikiLeaks site yesterday.