An international arbitration body has awarded US oil firm Exxon Mobil nearly $908m in a dispute with Venezuela over compensation for the nationalisation of its assets, the company says.
Exxon requested arbitration after President Hugo Chavez's government nationalised an oil project in the country in 2007.
The company had sought as much as $10bn in compensation for its heavy crude upgrading project in the Orinoco Belt, which was nationalised along with three others.
The award is less than the $1bn Venezuela offered in compensation in September.
The decision by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) confirmed that state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA "does have a contractual liability to Exxon Mobil,'' company spokesman Patrick McGinn said in an email on Sunday.
The Paris-based ICC calls itself the world's leading institution for resolving cross-border business disputes and says it has handled several hundred cases a year since 1999.
The ICC decision appears to award Exxon a sum close to the $750m it said it invested in the project - the amount Venezuela says Exxon deserves following the takeover.
But Exxon insists it should also be compensated for the increased value of the project, which at its outset in the early 1990s was considered risky because of low oil prices and uncertainty about the relatively untested operations to turn tar-like Orinoco oil into valuable light crude.
Exxon still has another arbitration case pending against Venezuela before the World Bank-affiliated International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
More than a dozen other arbitration cases involving Venezuela are also pending as companies seek billions of dollars in compensation in response to nationalisations by Chavez's leftist government.
The Caracas-based consulting firm Ecoanalitica estimated recently, before the latest Exxon decision, that the bulk of the government's nationalisations involved more than $33.7bn in assets, including about $23bn in outstanding obligations.
Venezuela has reached negotiated settlements on payments to some other companies.
Last month, Mexican cement company Cemex SAB said Venezuela agreed to pay $600m for the 2008 takeover of the company's operations in the country.
Venezuela's outstanding arbitration claims include disputes with Swiss cement-maker Holcim and Canadian miner Gold Reserve, which could force it to make large payouts.
Chavez's steady push to boost control over the country's oil industry started in 2004 and was followed by similar efforts in oil-producing countries ranging from Ecuador to Kazakhstan.
Critics say his nationalisation drive has slowed foreign investment that could help lift Venezuela's crude production, which has been stagnant for years, and left fewer companies interested in its oil fields.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|
|William A. Cook|