(Adds details on Zerpa, PDVSA, replacement)
By Alexandra Ulmer
CARACAS, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Venezuela state oil company PDVSA has removed Chief Financial Officer Simon Zerpa, who was sanctioned by the United States last year, a personnel move that could facilitate crude exports and bond renegotiations.
Venezuela’s official gazette on Thursday said Zerpa was replaced by Iliana Ruzza, who has worked at the state economic development bank Bandes as well as PDVSA.
Zerpa, a close ally of leftist President Nicolas Maduro, remains Economy and Finance Minister.
The sanctions on Zerpa had led to some oil exports to the United States being blocked as banks and investment funds refused to provide letters of credit to potential buyers, three financial sources told Reuters last year.
Two additional financial sources said having Zerpa as the company’s head of finance made it impossible for U.S. entities to assist PDVSA in debt refinancing.
The sanctions have added to a glum outlook for the OPEC nation’s oil industry, which is already producing at near 30-year lows due to under-investment, a brain drain, and crime.
A source close to PDVSA said Ruzza, a relative unknown, was Zerpa’s protegee.
Zerpa, who is in his mid-thirties, rose to prominence by leading the bilateral Venezuela-China fund through which Caracas borrows from Beijing and repays loans in oil and fuel. Venezuela has borrowed over $60 billion from China, earning the young executive the nickname “Zerpa the Chinese.”
PDVSA did not respond to a request for information about the change. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by David Gregorio)