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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 19:57 GMT
Venezuela denies oil asset freeze
Hugo Chavez in the National Assembly, 15 August 2007
Venezuela took over the oil project as part of a nationalisation drive.

Venezuela's state-run oil firm has denied that US oil giant Exxon Mobil had won a court order to freeze up to $12bn (6bn) of its assets.

PDVSA said that while it accepted that $300m in cash had been frozen, this was only a "transitory measure".

Exxon has been fighting for monetary compensation since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seized its stake in heavy oil projects in the country last June.

Arbitration between the two firms is due later this year.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez accused Exxon of "judicial terrorism" but said the court actions "don't have any direct affect over our operations, over our assets".

An Exxon spokeswoman said the firm had no comment on Mr Ramirez's comments.

'Proven reserves'

Venezuela took over the oil project as part of a nationalisation drive.

President Chavez's government took control of exploration projects in the Orinoco Belt, which had been among the last privately-run fields in the country.

Exxon has taken action in New York, London and the Netherlands challenging the terms of the nationalisation.

It has not said how much compensation it wants for the 41.7% stake in the Orinoco Belt oil field - worth an estimated $750m (370m).

The Orinoco Belt is the country's most important oil area, with massive potential.

There are proven reserves of at least 80 billion barrels, but there could be enough there to make Venezuela the world's biggest source of oil.

Four major companies - US-based Chevron, the UK's BP, French group Total and Norway's Statoil - accepted the government's move.

Only Exxon and ConocoPhillips refused to accept the terms of the deal, which made them junior partners in the project, by the June deadline.

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