Shell, Petrobras Pay US$36.7mn in Back Taxes

Brazilian federal energy company Petrobras (NYSE: PBR) and Anglo-Dutch major Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) have paid a combined 79bn bolívares (US$36.7mn) in back taxes to Venezuela's national tax authority Seniat, Caracas daily El Universal reported.

"Petrobras solved its fiscal situation inside the 15-day period established in the tax code for acceptance and payment without resorting to any administrative or judicial instances," Seniat special taxpayers manager Jose Joaquin Cedillo was quoted as saying in the article.

Petrobras and its affiliated companies have paid about 51bn bolívares, making Petrobras the first oil company under investigation by Seniat that has paid its claim in full. US-based Harvest Natural Resources (NYSE: HNR) by contrast paid only a fraction of what Seniat demanded and filed an appeal for the rest.

Petrobras has several related companies doing exploration and production in Venezuela because some properties it acquired directly while some it ended up owning after it took over Argentine oil company Perez Companc in 2002.

According to Seniat sources quoted in the article, Shell paid 28bn bolivares, also the full amount demanded by Seniat.

It is not known if the money paid by Petrobras included fines or interest but Seniat said last week that the 28bn bolivares Shell owed it included a 15bn- bolívar fine and over 1bn bolivares in interest.

The government says companies should have paid taxes in the 2001-2004 period using a 50% rate as required for production contracts. Companies had been using a 34% rate, in some cases for more than a decade, without any complaints from the tax authority.

Seniat originally said it would seek some US$3bn in unpaid taxes. However, 19 of the 22 companies under investigation have already been presented with tax claims amounting to a total US$651mn. Seniat said in early January it had collected US$126mn of this amount.

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