Harvest Natural Resources sues ex-oil chief over bribe demands

By Peter Blumberg on 2/19/2018

SAN FRANCISCO (Bloomberg) -- Former Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez, already accused of corruption by his own country, now faces a lawsuit from a Houston energy firm alleging that it lost almost half a billion dollars over its refusal to pay bribes for contracts.

Harvest Natural Resources Inc. said that because it rebuffed four separate $10-million bribe demands from associates of Ramirez, Venezuela’s power ministry withheld approval for Harvest to sell its energy assets in the South American nation. That resulted in losses of $470 million, according to a complaint filed Friday in Houston federal court.

A Venezuelan public prosecutor said in December, just after Ramirez resigned his post as the nation’s ambassador to the United Nations, that the former head of state-run oil producer Petroleos de Venezuela was linked to a scheme to sell crude illegally. Dozens of former and current PDVSA managers have been arrested in a widening graft probe. Ramirez has denied any wrongdoing.

Harvest says it wasn’t the only business harmed by Ramirez’s actions. The agreed buyers for two of its deals were also hurt, “as were other American companies engaged in business in Venezuela,” according to the complaint.

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