World Bank to Reduce Venezuela Payout in Exxon Case*
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
A World Bank tribunal partially overturned a US$1.6 billion ruling against Venezuela over the nationalisation of Exxon Mobil assets.
The announcement was first made by the Venezuelan government’s lawyers, who claimed the original decision by the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSD) had been “annulled”.
“We were confident all along that our position was correct and are very pleased that the annulment committee agreed,” Venezuela’s lawyer George Kahale told Reuters.
However, a ruling published on the ICSD’s website Thursday only stated that “portions” of the overall award were overturned.
Exxon is yet to confirm any details of the changes to the payout. Company spokesperson Todd Spitler told Reuters,
“Exxon Mobil will continue to evaluate its legal rights and determine next steps.”
International lawyer Russ Dallen said Exxon will likely appeal the latest decision.
“Under ICSID rules, Exxon Mobil now has the right to request the resubmission of the dispute to another new tribunal to again look at the original award in the case,” Dallen told the Latin American Herald Tribune.
“I would imagine that ExxonMobil cannot be happy with this outcome after 10 years of litigation and the loss of its investment and will resubmit its defence of the award for a second opinion,” he said.
Venezuela and Exxon’s decade old legal dispute began after the government moved to nationalise almost all of Venezuela’s oil sector in 2007. During the wave of nationalisations that followed, the government purchased two major Exxon projects – Cerro Negro and La Ceiba. While 20 other oil firms agreed to the Venezuelan government’s payout offers, Exxon and one other – ConocoPhillips – accused the government of low balling them, and sought arbitration.
Exxon originally demanded compensation of up to US$10 billion, but in 2014 the ICSD ruled Venezuela would only have to pay out US$1.6 billion. Even then, the government said it expected to whittle that figure down to US$1 billion through appeals. One of Venezuela’s key demands was for the reward to be reduced by $908 million. That figure represents an amount Venezuela has already been ordered to pay Exxon in a separate case at the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce.
In 2015, at the request of Venezuela the ICSD agreed to form an annulment panel. That panel has now concluded the original ICSD overstepped its mandate.
Even without the new payout figure being officially announced, Venezuela has already welcomed the panel’s decision as a major victory. Earlier this month, the country’s central bank released bleak new figures, including data showing foreign reserves have fallen to US$10.5 billion. In January 2016, the bank reported reserves were at US$16.27 billion. In 2011, that figure was closer to US$30 billion.
However, Venezuela still has more than 20 pending cases before the ICSD, such as the multi-million dollar dispute with oil services company Tidewater.
The government also has a handful of cases in U.S. courts, including a legal battle with mining firm Rusoro worth US$1.2 billion, and another with Crystallex worth US$1.4 billion.