On Monday January 28, following statements made by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin regarding the United States’ effort to “[hold] accountable those responsible for Venezuela’s rapid decline,” the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) designated Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (“PdVSA”) pursuant to Executive Order (“E.O.”) 13850 for operating in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy. As a result of this action, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in virtually all transactions with PdVSA. Additionally, all property and interests in property of PdVSA that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. Pursuant to OFAC’s 50% Rule, these sanctions apply to any entity in which PdVSA owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest.

OFAC’s designation of PdVSA comes less than a week after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Juan Guaido, Venezuelan’s opposition leader, as the nation’s legitimate president. Upon announcing the new sanctions, Secretary Mnuchin indicated that the United States does not intend for these sanctions to be permanent but rather,  “[t]he path to sanctions relief for PdVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the Interim President [Juan Guaido] or a subsequent, democratically elected government.”

In conjunction with the imposition of these sanctions on PdVSA, OFAC issued and amended a number of general licenses authorizing a limited number of transactions and wind-down activities involving PdVSA. OFAC issued or amended the following general licenses:

  • General License 3: “Authorizing Transactions Related to, Provisions of Financing for, and Other Dealings in Certain Bonds”
  • General License 7: “Authorizing Certain Activities with PDV Holding, Inc. and CITGO Holding, Inc.”
  • General License 8: “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Prohibited by Executive Order 13850 for Certain Entities Operating in Venezuela”
  • General License 9: “Authorizing Transactions Related to Dealings in Certain Debt”
  • General License 10: “Authorizing the Purchase in Venezuela of Gasoline from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA)”
  • General License 11: “Authorizing Certain Activities Necessary to Maintenance or Wind Down of Operations or Existing Contracts with Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA)”
  • General License 12: “Authorizing Certain Activities Necessary to Wind Down of Operations or Existing Contracts with Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA)”
  • General License 13: “Authorizing Certain Activities Involving Nynas AB”
  • General License 14: “Official Business of the United States Government”

Of particular importance are General Licenses 7, 9, 11 and 12. 

  • General License 7 authorizes all transactions and activities prohibited by the E.O. with PDV Holding, Inc. (“PDVH”), CITGO Holding, Inc., and any of their subsidiaries provided the only PdVSA entities involved are PDVH, CITGO Holding, Inc. or any of their subsidiaries. This authorization is valid until July 27, 2019.
  • General License 9 authorizes transactions that are ordinarily incident and necessary to dealings in new debt with a maturity exceeding 90 days or more. This general license does not authorize divestments or transfers of debt to U.S. persons.
  • General License 11 authorizes U.S. financial institutions to reject, rather than block, transfers involving PdVSA and non-U.S. entities located in a country other than the United States or Venezuela, provided: 1) the funds originate and terminate outside the United States, 2)  neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a U.S. person, and 3) the funds are not destined for a blocked account on the books of a U.S. person.  This authorization is valid until March 29, 2019.
  • General License 12 authorizes transactions and activities with PdVSA that are ordinarily incident and necessary to the purchase and importation into the United States of petroleum and petroleum products until April 28, 2019.  General License 12 also authorizes all transactions and activities that are ordinarily incident and necessary to the wind down of operations, contracts, and other agreements involving PdVSA that were in effect prior to January 28, 2019 (including those related to the importation into the United States of goods, services or technology). Transactions and activities falling into this category are authorized until February 27, 2019. Notably, this general license does not authorize the exportation or re-exportation of any diluents from the United States to Venezuela or PdVSA.

The scope of these general licenses is narrow and subject to change. Therefore, specialist advice should be sought before engaging in any transaction believed to be authorized under these general licenses.

How Reed Smith can help

Reed Smith’s Sanctions Team has experience representing companies before OFAC. A global firm, Reed Smith is particularly well positioned to provide guidance on U.S. sanctions and to represent your company before OFAC and other federal agencies implementing U.S. sanctions, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of State, with highly experienced sanctions lawyers from both the United States and the EU available to you, 24/7. Contact one of the authors listed below, or your usual Reed Smith lawyer, and we will be more than happy to help you navigate the implications of these significant events for your business.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.