- - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

BUENOS AIRES — Venezuela recently shipped fuel to a Syrian firm under U.S. government sanctions, in moves that could open the South American nation to punitive U.S. measures, according to energy experts.

Analysts say they have no doubt that the state-owned firm, Petroleum Venezuela, dealt with Syria’s state oil company, Sytrol.

The U.S. Treasury Department placed Sytrol on a sanctions blacklist last summer, along with the Syrian Petroleum Corp. and the Syrian Company for Oil Transport (SCOT), which operates major oil export terminals.

“Any dealings by foreign firms with these blacklisted companies would technically be sanctionable,” said Lejla Alic, an economist at the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

Although shipping oil to Syria for humanitarian reasons is not subject to sanctions, the Venezuelan oil company would have dealt with the blacklisted firms, experts said.

“There might be intermediaries involved in the shipments, but the Syrian state had to have received them,” said Pedro Burelli, a former member of the board of directors of the state firm, known by its Spanish initials PDVSA.

“There is simply nobody on the private side who has logistics to do so.”

A shipping consultant who asked not to be identified because he does business with PDVSA agreed.

“The history of diesel going into Syria has always been through Sytrol,” he said.

“It’s possible they could have put some company in business to receive these shipments, but Im sure it ended up with Sytrol and that’s how it got put into the system.”

Energy analysts for the U.S. government also agreed that the shipments were more than likely handled by Sytrol.

Oil minister admits shipments

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has confirmed media reports that PDVSA sent two shipments of fuel to Damascus after Western sanctions were imposed on the Syrian regime, which is accused of killing thousands of protesters against the government.

“We’ve sent Syria two cargoes of diesel [fuel], and shipments will continue as they are needed,” Mr. Ramirez said. “We have a high degree of friendship and cooperation with Syria.”

One cargo of diesel fuel with an estimated value of $50 million left Venezuela in February on the tanker Negra Hipolita. It was bound for the Syrian port of Banias. An earlier shipment was sent in November.

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