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Oil traders are mixing additives into Venezuelan crude to disguise its origin so they can sell it to Chinese refiners without either party getting stung by U.S. penalties for sanction violation, Bloomberg has reported.
The “doping” takes place at a mid-point between Venezuela and China, the report notes, and the name of the crude is changed in official documents to ones that would not suggest where the cargo comes from. According to Bloomberg, millions of barrels of Venezuelan oil have reached Chinese refiners this way.
This is on top of ship-to-ship transfers that are also a common method of skirting U.S. sanctions against Caracas, as well as satellite silence from tankers carrying Venezuelan crude to buyers.
“There are so many ways to circumvent sanctions,” the managing director of Rapidan Energy Advisors, Scott Modell, told Bloomberg’s Lucia Kassai. “There are many people willing to take the risk because there’s so much money to be made.”
Swapping oil for food and water is another way around sanctions, and this is what a private Mexican company did for a while, exchanging corn and water for several million barrels of Venezuelan crude. Since there was no money involved in the transaction, sanctions were not applicable.
Yet the company, Libre Abordo, folded last July. “In recent months (we) have faced excessive challenges, from the oil price fall... to pressure from the U.S. government aimed to stop our operations,” the company said in the press release declaring its bankruptcy.
Others, however, probably continue to do surreptitious business with Venezuelan oil, the Bloomberg reports suggest, citing documents showing that one Swiss trading firm, Swissoil, alone sold about 11.3 million barrels of Venezuelan oil to China in 2020. The company has denied it trades Venezuelan crude.
The outgoing U.S. administration recently added more companies and tankers to its blacklist of entities working with Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA to market its oil. Even so, chances are Venezuelan crude will continue flowing to buyers thanks to stable appetite from refiners and the promise of profits for all involved.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com