Venezuelan Opposition Threatens Goldman Sachs over $2.8bn Bond Deal

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly has threatened not to pay US $2.8 billion in PDVSA bonds purchased by Goldman Sachs through a third party broker this week.

By Lucas Koerner

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National Assembly head Julio Borges has threatened the Wall Street bank with non-payment. (Archive)
National Assembly head Julio Borges has threatened the Wall Street bank with non-payment. (Archive)
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Caracas, May 30, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly has threatened not to pay US $2.8 billion in PDVSA bonds purchased by Goldman Sachs through a third party broker this week.

On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the New York-based investment bank had paid US $865 million for Venezuelan state oil company bonds maturing in 2022, amounting to around 31 cents on the dollar. 

The move has been roundly condemned by the Venezuelan opposition, which has accused Goldman of throwing a “financial lifeline” to a Maduro government besieged by two months of violent anti-government protests that have cost 68 lives to date

In a public letter to Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, National Assembly (AN) President Julio Borges threatened the top-tier financial firm with non-payment. 

"Given the irregular nature of this transaction and the absurd financial terms involved that are to the detriment of Venezuela and its people, the National Assembly will soon launch an investigation into the matter. I also intend to recommend to any future democratic government of Venezuela not to recognize or pay on these bonds," he wrote.

However, in an emailed statement Monday, Goldman Sachs rebuffed the criticism, insisting that the political and economic situation in Venezuela will “improve over time”.

"We recognize that the situation is complex and evolving and that Venezuela is in crisis. We agree that life there has to get better, and we made the investment in part because we believe it will,” the Wall Street bank affirmed.

The AN head’s threats against Goldman Sachs are the latest in an opposition campaign to deter international financial institutions from lending to the cash-strapped Maduro administration amid a severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global oil prices.

Last month, it was revealed that Borges had written over a dozen letters to major banks warning them not to do business with the government, which he calls a “dictatorship”, notwithstanding Maduro’s democratic mandate. 

The AN under Borges has likewise refused to authorize efforts by the government to refinance its sizable foreign debt in order to guarantee vital imports. 

The parliament’s intransigence prompted a highly controversial Supreme Court decision in late March that temporarily authorized the judiciary to assume certain legislative functions, including approving a joint venture agreement with Russian state oil giant Rosneft in exchange for bilateral loans. 

Though immediately reversed, the ruling sparked anti-government protests, which opposition leaders have vowed to continue until all their demands are met, including bringing forward presidential elections slated for next year.

The deal with Goldman provides a desperately needed boost to Venezuela’s shrinking international reserves, which had fallen to US $10 billion amid stagnant global crude prices.

The agreement comes on the heels of a successful bond swap last October that saw PDVSA exchange $2.8 billion in bonds maturing in 2017 for $3.4 billion due in 2020 in a bid to avoid default. 

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