Diplomatic row over raid on Spansh energy firm

10th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

10 March 2006, MADRID — Madrid has been angered by the attempt by Bolivian judicial authorities' to arrest two top executives of a Spanish energy corporation on suspicion of oil smuggling.

10 March 2006

MADRID — Madrid has been angered by the attempt by Bolivian judicial authorities' to arrest two top executives of a Spanish energy corporation on suspicion of oil smuggling.

Secretary of state for foreign affairs, Bernardino Leon, described as "unjust" the Bolivian action directed against officials of a subsidiary of Spanish oil giant Repsol-YPF.

In an interview with EFE, Leon - who is on a working visit to Peru - said that "a solution can be found and this aura of irregular activities on the part of Repsol, which does not seem fair to us, can be avoided".

Leon said that Repsol "is doing great work in Bolivia. It's committed to the country's present and future and ready to strengthen its commitments" in the Andean nation.

He also said that the "great concern" that Spain feels over the case has been transmitted to the Bolivian administration of Bolivian president Evo Morales.

Bolivian authorities said they did not find the bosses of Andina, Repsol YPF's local subsidiary, when they descended on the company's establishment in the eastern city of Santa Cruz on Thursday.

Upon leaving the offices, prosecutor Angel Alvarez told reporters that neither Andina's president, Spaniard Julio Gavito, nor its operations chief, Pedro Sanchez, were on the premises.

Alvarez led the raid on the order of Judge Zenon Rodriguez, who wanted the executives brought before him to testify.

The prosecutor entered Andina's offices with a score of police in an operation that was free of incidents and which took place with the full cooperation of the company's employees.

Bolivian authorities want to question Gavito and Sanchez in connection with allegations that Andina smuggled EUR 7.55 million worth of crude oil out of the Andean nation without securing the necessary authorization or paying applicable taxes and duties.

Andina and Repsol have denied any wrongdoing.

Two weeks ago, a judge issued arrest warrants for Gavito and Sanchez after the men failed to appear in court last week for a hearing related to the probe.

But Andina said later that the two executives had arranged ahead of time to postpone the proceeding to 9 March, and that it was a failure of communication within the Bolivian judiciary that led to the orders for their apprehension.

That episode sparked a flurry of activity by Spanish diplomats.

Spain's ambassador in La Paz, Francisco Montalvan, met with Morales to register Madrid's concern over the move.

The Spanish envoy told EFE after his talks with Morales late last month that the Bolivian head of state assured him of La Paz's desire for good relations with Spain and for an equitable solution to the case involving Andina.

Morales, a socialist who took office in January, promised to nationalize his Andean nation's hydrocarbons, especially its vast reserves of natural gas exploited in recent years by multinational corporations. But he said the formula for doing so will not be coercive or confiscatory.

Gavito said last month that his firm will do "everything humanly possible" to stay in Bolivia, where Repsol YPF holds the fifth-largest share of an estimated 48 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

The fuel gas that is impoverished Bolivia's main natural resource is currently extracted by foreign firms. Besides Repsol, the top operators here are Brazilian state-owned giant Petrobras, Britain's BG Group and BP, French major Total and U.S.-based Exxon Mobil.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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