Venezuela oil chiefs told US data falsified -report

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.

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