Americas, Business & trade, Energy, New in Lobbying, Sanctions

Venezuela oil company reveals $20 million US influence campaign

The US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company has disclosed a years-old US influence campaign to the Department of Justice as Caracas seeks a fresh start with the Joe Biden administration.

New York-based PDV USA spent more than $20 million on lobbying, public relations and legal representation between 2015 and 2018 to advance the interests of its parent company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), according to a retroactive registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). PDV USA said it received $89 million in funding from PDVSA during the period.

The filing is marked as having been received by the FARA office on Dec. 31 but was only uploaded to the department’s public web site today.

The disclosure comes as Venezuela is hoping that President Nicolas Maduro‘s long-standing ties to new House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) may help the Biden administration tone down bilateral tensions that surged under President Donald Trump, who threatened military intervention. Meanwhile US energy companies Chevron and Reliance Industries are holding virtual discussions this week with State Department officials to request a rollback of some of restrictions against Venezuela’s oil industry that the previous administration began imposing in January 2019, Bloomberg reports.

The lobbying filing was signed by Elio Tortolero, a member of the board of directors of PDVSA subsidiary PDV Holding, Inc. and external adviser to the National Assembly of Venezuela. PDV Holding, the parent company of PDV USA, did not respond to a request for comment about the timing or purpose of the disclosure.

The new filing asserts that the company paid former Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) and his Florida-based firm Interamerican Consulting $15 million in 2017 as part of a $50 million deal to promote the company’s interests. The existence of the contract was first revealed last May when PDV USA sued Rivera, an anti-communist hawk during his time in Congress, accusing him of breach of contract.

The FARA filing mirrors that legal complaint. “During the course of the contractual relationship, Rivera submitted only two deliverables, each lacking in detail: a two-page progress report and a four-page final report,” the filing states. “PDV USA is unaware of any evidence that Interamerican performed the actual work contemplated by the Agreement.” A Rivera lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.


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The new filing also discloses $751,000 in payments to third-party vendor Caribbean Style to place four advertisements in The New York Times and the Washington Post:

  • March 17, 2015: A $175,000 full-page in the NYT advertisement entitled “Venezuela is not a threat” styled as a letter to the people of the United States and signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
  • Sept. 9, 2015: A $175,000 full-page advertisement in the NYT entitled “The truth about the Venezuela-Colombia Border Situation”;
  • May 26, 2016: A $100,000 full-page advertisement in the Post in the form of a statement from the intergovernmental organization Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) expressing “heartfelt solidarity with President Nicolas Maduro and his people”; and
  • Feb. 22, 2017: A $175,000 full-page advertisement in the NYT in the form of a letter from Vice President Tareck El Aissami to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responding to the US administration’s decision to sanction him for drug trafficking.

“The pro-Venezuelan and anti-US sanctions regime content of these advertisements suggests they were intended to influence the US government’s or the US public’s perspective of the US sanctions regime relating to Venezuela during the time period,” the filing states.

Finally, PDV USA disclosed paying Washington law firm Wiss & Partners just over $4 million between March 2017 and March 2018. The filing says the firm was instructed to bill PDVSA in Caracas directly starting in April 2018.

“Wiss engaged in some amount of legal work for PDV USA during their relationship, including issuing updates on disputes involving PDVSA and its subsidiaries, and well as providing legal advice on issues related to insurance, crypto currency, employment, and immigration,” the filing states. Wiss did not immediately respond to a request for comment.