June 24, 2017 / 11:32 PM / in a month

Portugal investigating fraud linked to Venezuela PDVSA funds, PDVSA says

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FILE PHOTO - The logo of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela August 10, 2016.Marco Bello/File Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) - Portugal is investigating alleged appropriation of funds belonging to Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] that were channelled through now-defunct Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo between 2009 and 2014, PDVSA said on Saturday.

PDVSA's reputation has been tarnished in recent years by high-profile corruption investigations including guilty pleas by two U.S.-based contractors who authorities said ran a $1 billion (£786.6 million) corruption scheme associated with PDVSA contracts.

Venezuela's opposition-led Congress last year said about $11 billion in funds went missing at PDVSA while Rafael Ramirez, currently Venezuela's U.N. envoy, was at the helm from 2004 to 2014. Ramirez slammed the report as "irresponsible lies."

"Portuguese law enforcement agencies are investigating supposed appropriation of funds belonging to the corporation that were channelled through the above-mentioned institution," the company said in a statement.

The investigators are reviewing operations "in which there could have been money laundering and in which former employees of PDVSA and its subsidiaries could have been involved."

PDVSA until 2014 received payments for crude deliveries at its accounts at BES, as the bank was known, according to a 2014 Reuters report that cited an internal PDVSA document.

BES collapsed in 2014. Some of its assets were used to create a new bank called Novo Banco.

PDVSA had also bought $365 million in bonds issued by the holding company of the family of Ricardo Salgado, who was founder and president of the bank, according to a 2014 Reuters special report.

The company said it will soon provide details on efforts to seek civil and criminal measures in jurisdictions where it has "identified assets of persons involved in corruption," and said it would carry out "legal actions" in Portugal.

It did not provide details on such actions or the amounts being investigated.

PDVSA has acknowledged problems with corruption and is seeking to improve procedures but insists that ideological adversaries are exaggerating the irregularities for political gain.

"The national oil company will continue reinforcing its internal controls and implementing new mechanisms and procedures to ensure that situations like this do not occur again," the statement said.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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