Archive for January 2nd, 2012

ExxonMobil Versus PDVSA: Arbitration and Numbers

January 2, 2012

By now, people seem a little confused by the victory by Venezuela and PDVSA at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over ExxonMobil.

First, there is a numbers confusion, the first headline (Bloomberg’s) was “PDVSA has to pay US$ 750 million to Exxon”, the second (Exxon’s) was “PDVSA will have to pay US$ 907 million” and now we have a third one (PDVSA’s) saying “PDVSA will pay Exxon US$ 255 million”

As noted by Setty, this is just spinning. Exxon wants to show the largest number, PDVSA wants the smallest and Bloomberg reported the net amount awarded by the arbitration panel after a claim by PDVSA against ExxxonMobil in the amount of US$ 160.6 million for debts ExxonMobil had against PDVSA.

So, these are the true numbers:

In the arbitration case for breach of contract at the ICC, the case was decided against PDVSA in the amount of US$ 907.6 million dollars, which is about the smallest number ExxonMobil could have expected to get, as it represents book value for its 41.7% in the Cerro Negro partnership. Thus, this is a victory for Venezuela, because the amount awarded is small.

From the US$ 907.6 million, you have to subtract the US$ 160.6 million in liabilities ExxonMobil had in Venezuela.

Additionally, ExxonMobil had a New York Court seize US$ 305 million from a PDVSA account, which will now be turned over to ExxonMobil.

Thus, the net amount of cash that PDVSA will have to pay is (US$ 907.6 million-160.6 million-UDS$ 305 million)= US$ 442 million. Additionally PDVSA says ExxonMobil owed Venezuela US$ 191 million from the repurchasing of the Cerro Negro bonds, which is not clear what it means. Those bonds were repurchased by PDVSA in a decision in which ExxonMobil did not participate.

Thus, PDVSA will have to pay less cash, but the award against it was indeed US$ 907.6 million. How much it really has to actually pay or take out of its pocket is a completely different matter.

However, the case is not over. ExxonMobil went to arbitration in two courts: The ICC and the Worlds Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

How can this be? How can two parallel cases coexist on the same case? This is the second confusing point.

Well, after calling a good friend who knows his arbitration stuff like nobody I know, it turns out this is perfectly normal.

You see, in the the 90’s when ExxonMobil decided to participate in the Cerro Negro project, it signed a contract with PDVSA and Venezuela (Which was approved by the National assembly). At the ICC, this contract is what was being disputed: the breach of contract by PDVSA or Venezuela when it expropriated the partnership or changed its conditions unilaterally. What is awarded in this court is what the arbitration panel interprets the two sides had agreed upon in that contract.

However, separately, ExxonMobil owned its 41.7% stake in Cerro Negro via a Netherlands-based subsidiary and it so happens that Venezuela and The Netherlands have a treaty to promote and protect mutual investments. This treaty has specific clauses to protect investors from both countries. It is the violations of this treaty that the World Bank’s ICSID arbitration panel is judging upon (A decision is not imminent, there will be a hearing in 1Q12), Thus, the award by the ICSID will be determined by what that treaty says and the violations that may have occurred. This could be larger in scope, as it could include additional compensations and indemnifications.

Thus, at the ICSID the panel may give (or not) ExxonMobil awards to compensate violations such as not being paid before the expropriation, modifying contracts unilaterally, not being treated fair and equitably, discriminating foreign investors from local investors, not guaranteeing payments and many others.

As an example, the treaty specifically states (my free translation from Spanish):

“The parts will not take any measure to expropriate or nationalize investments made by nationals of the other country, nor will take measures which have the equivalent effect of nationalization or expropriation, unless the public interest is invoked and subject to due process, without discrimination and with prior compensation, at market value for the investments and with payment without delay at commercial interest rates.”

Clearly many of these conditions were violated in this case and the ICSID will have to decide on what compensation to award ExxonMobil, beyond what it was established between the parts in the original contract. The wording of the treaty is clearly much different than what may have been contained in the contract (Which I have not seen). In fact, the original contract was not even signed by a Netherlands company, ExxonMobil later transferred ownership to a Netherlands company to enjoy the protection of the treaty.

Thus, it may happen that the ICC awards something and the ICSID does not, or vice versa or both award amounts that are different because they are based on different legal concepts.In the two cases that Venezuela has lost at the ICSID, the award has been roughly book value in any case, but the amounts involved were much smaller.

Thus, the ICSID could give ExxonMobil a bigger award, or not. But for now, score it as: PDVSA 1 ExxonMobil 0.

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