EXCLUSIVE-Citgo's search for CEO progresses, includes former PDVSA execs -sources

Credit: REUTERS/Marco Bello

Citgo Petroleum Corp, the U.S. arm of Venezuela's state-run oil firm PDVSA, is moving toward appointing a new chief executive, with candidate names including former executives from PDVSA and other companies soon to be submitted to the board.

By Marianna Parraga

June 6 (Reuters) - Citgo Petroleum Corp, the U.S. arm of Venezuela's state-run oil firm PDVSA, is moving toward appointing a new chief executive, with candidate names including former executives from PDVSA and other companies soon to be submitted to the board.

In February, former CEO Asdrubal Chavez and several other Citgo executives close to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were ousted amid a battle for control of the subsidiary.

The eighth-largest U.S. refiner has since been run by Chairwoman Luisa Palacios and a group of senior U.S. and Venezuelan executives.

A Citgo search committee has begun evaluating more than a dozen candidates, Palacios said in a statement to Reuters on Thursday. It expects to recommend an executive who possesses "the highest ethical standards" and who can bring "a proven track record in leading complex petroleum-related operations," she said.

The search, which is being conducted without a recruiting firm, has identified candidates all of whom are Venezuelans and most of whom are former PDVSA executives, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named. Those include Julio Hasselmeyer, Edgar Rasquin and Andres Riera.

Two current members of Citgo's board, Luis Urdaneta and Edgar Rincon, also submitted applications, the sources said.

Gustavo Baquero, who is senior vice president of operations technology excellence at Norway's Equinor SA EQNR.OL, and Carlos Jorda, a former vice president of refining and marketing at PDVSA who is currently at energy consultancy Gaffney, Cline & Associates, also are in the running, the people said.

Jorda declined to comment. Baquero did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Urdaneta, Rincon, Rasquin, Riera and Hasselmeyer could not be reached to comment.

The next chief will run an about $30 billion a year business that includes refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Illinois with combined crude processing capacity of up to 750,000 barrels per day. Citgo also operates an extensive pipeline network and markets products through about 5,300 U.S. retail outlets.

Chavez, who ran Houston-based Citgo from an office in the Bahamas and is a cousin of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, remains recognized by Maduro's government as CEO but no longer has effective control.

In February, a new Citgo board was appointed by the Venezuelan opposition-run congress, whose chief, Juan Guaido, is recognized as the South American country's interim leader by the United States and some 50 other nations. The board took over day-to-day operations after Washington imposed sanctions designed to cripple PDVSA's oil exports and pressure Maduro to step down.

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment.

Citgo's day-to-day operations have been overseen by a group of executives led by Executive Vice President Rick Esser, who reports to Palacios.

The next CEO will face demands by the U.S. Department of Justice for information on former officials' dealings with PDVSA. Prosecutors last month requested Citgo documents as part of an investigation into bribery by suppliers to PDVSA. Citgo has said it is cooperating with the probe.

The Justice Department's investigation has resulted in charges against 21 people, 16 of whom have pleaded guilty as of this month. Maduro has described the bribery investigation as politically motivated and has said he will fight to regain control of Citgo.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; editing by Gary McWilliams and Rosalba O'Brien)

((marianna.parraga@thomsonreuters.com; +5255 5282 7159; Reuters Messaging: marianna.parraga@thomsonreuters.com))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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