Total Pays Tax Authority US$19.4mn

French oil major Total (NYSE: TOT) has paid Venezuela's Seniat tax authority 41.8bn bolivares (US$19.4mn) months after receiving a claim for some 262bn bolivares, Seniat and Total officials told BNamericas.

"Total paid a small percentage [of the amount] and filed claims for technology transfers and expenses" in a bid to have the claim reduced, a Seniat official said. Most importantly, the French company has accepted the tax authority's central claim that Total should pay a 50% rate and not 34% as it had been paying for work done under the now-defunct "operating agreements" figure, he added.

"They accepted that, they all did," the official said, referring to other oil companies to which Seniat has presented similar tax claims for the 2001-2004 period.

The appeals to Seniat that Total filed on Wednesday (March 29) could give the company up to a year before a ruling determines whether it will have to pay some or all of the balance.

The French company, which has been engaged in a protracted fight with the tax authority, and UK oil company BP (NYSE: BP) are partners in the Jusepin oilfield in eastern Venezuela, the largest crude operation in Latin America with output of about 400,000 barrels a day (b/d). Like several other oilfields run by foreign companies, the operation is in the process of being converted into a joint venture led by state oil company PDVSA.

Sincor, Total's largest investment in Venezuela, was served with a separate tax claim for some US$700,000 last week for minor infractions.

Total owns 47% of Sincor, the largest of the four projects that upgrade extra-heavy crude from the Orinoco oil belt into synthetic crude. Norway's Statoil (NYSE: STO) holds 15% and PDVSA 38% of the JV, which is producing some 190,000b/d.

A Total official in Caracas confirmed the payment to Seniat but declined to comment further.

Visit BNamericas to access our real-time news reports, 7-year archive, Fact File company database, and latest research reports. Click here for a Free two week trial to our Latin America Oil & Gas information service.