NEW DELHI: India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corp., will stay the course in Venezuela even as it awaits dividends overdue from the San Cristobal oil exploration project there, said a person aware of the Indian government’s strategy.

This comes against the backdrop of the US administration imposing sanctions on state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) as there is growing pressure on President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela to cede control to National Assembly leader Juan Guaido. The government has been criticised for using PDVSA as a political tool.

Mint reported on 23 April 2015 about unpaid dividends due from the San Cristobal oil exploration project to OVL crossing more than half-a-billion dollars.

Queries emailed to a spokesperson for ONGC on Saturday remained unanswered.

Any instability in Venezuela also holds significance for India, which counts Venezuela as among its largest suppliers of crude oil. India’s total crude imports surged more than 25% in 2017-18 to $109 billion.

“The United States has taken necessary action to prevent the illegitimate former Maduro regime from further plundering Venezuela’s assets and natural resources. The United States has determined that persons operating in Venezuela’s oil sector may now be subject to sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13850 signed by (US) President (Donald) Trump on November 1, 2018. Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. has been designated for operating within this sector," US secretary of state Michael R. Pompeo said on 28 January in a statement.

“Maduro and his cronies have used state-owned PDVSA to control, manipulate, and steal from the Venezuelan people for too long, destroying it in the process," Pompeo said.

India, the world’s third-largest oil importer, has maintained that it adheres only to sanctions imposed by the United Nations and not unilateral strictures placed by countries.

This comes in the wake of Trump pulling the US out of a historic 2015 accord with energy-rich Iran that was inked to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme in return for ending sanctions. However, oil importers in India have secured temporary reprieve from the US sanctions.

Oil comprises 97% of the South American nation’s export revenue. OVL bought a 40% stake in the San Cristobal project in 2008. Corporación Venezolana del Petróleo (CVP), a unit of PDVSA, owns the remaining stake.

The joint venture Petrolera IndoVenezolana SA (PIVSA), which operates the 160.18km acreage in the Orinoco Heavy Oil belt. OVL, along with other Indian companies, is also part of a global consortium developing the Carabobo 1 Norte and Carabobo 1 Centro blocks in the Orinoco region. OVL has invested $355.7 million in the San Cristobal project. The dues have been piling up since the term of late President Hugo Chávez, which had appropriated earnings from PDVSA to finance social spending.

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