Houston oil company claims Venezuelan demands for bribes forced their business to close, files suit

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The oil game can be crude:

A Houston-based oil and natural gas producer claims it went out of business due to demands for millions of dollars in bribes from Venezuelan officials.

Attorneys for Harvest Natural Resources filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming officials with the Venezuelan government and its state-run oil company demanded more than $40 million in bribes in exchange for allowing the sale of the company’s holdings in the South American nation.

One of the defendants in the Harvest lawsuit is former Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez, accused in court documents of requesting $10 million bribes from Harvest executives on four separate occasions.

Harvest alleges the company’s refusal to pay the bribes cost them $470 million in lost revenue due to the blocked sales, and the lost revenue forced the company to shut its doors in 2017.

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The lawsuit further alleges the two prospective buyers of Harvest’s Venezuelan holdings also sustained some losses by Ramirez’s attempts to block the sale, “as were other American companies engaged in business in Venezuela” in what they call a “pay-to-play scheme.”

Ramirez is also reportedly the target of a corruption probe in his own country:

A Venezuelan government prosecutor charged Ramirez and dozens of other leaders in the state-run oil company with selling crude oil illegally and lining their pockets with the proceeds.

Federal investigators said they probed the relationship between Houston energy companies, the Venezuelan government and Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA).

Several former PDVSA managers reportedly faced corruption charges for allegedly seeking kickbacks in exchange for access to the country’s vast oil reserves.

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The federal charges allege the so-called “management team” deposited the proceeds into secret bank accounts or funneled the money into real estate and other investments.

As of this writing, fifteen people face federal charges in the bribery scheme.

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