Chavez Casts Stone in 'Economic War,' Threatens Suit Against 'Thieves'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has stepped up his "economic war" against ExxonMobil, claiming in his presidential radio and television address Feb. 17 that Venezuela is pursuing a lawsuit against the U.S.-based oil company for the "theft" of 500,000 barrels of crude from Venezuelan fields.

"Let's sue ExxonMobil and demand that they pay for what they stole. They're the aggressors, they're the thieves," said Chavez.

Chavez has claimed that ExxonMobil is acting as a vehicle for the United States government in an attempt to undermine Venezuela.

Since he has taken office, Chavez, who called the U.S. president the "Devil" during a U.N. conference in New York last year, has accused the United States of assassination attempts and more recently of plans to invade Venezuela. U.S. President George Bush's administration has denied Chavez's claims of an invasion.

Chavez successfully nationalized Venezuela's oil fields, overtaking 32 fields Jan. 1, including the Orinoco Belt operated by ExxonMobil. At that time, ExxonMobil ended all operations in the country. It then pursued compensation through an international court.

On February 7 courts in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antille awarded Exxon a freeze of $12 billion in international assets of Pdvsa, the state-owned oil and gas company.

Margaret Ross, an ExxonMobil representative, told Rigzone, "We cannot estimate how long the arbitration will take to come to a conclusion.

"We remain willing to engage in substantive discussions with the Venezuelan government."

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