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Venezuela's PDVSA says seeking compensation in U.S. oil bribery case

CARACAS Nov 24 Venezuela's PDVSA said on Thursday it was taking legal action seeking compensation for a $1 billion scheme in which two oil magnates paid bribes to obtain lucrative contracts from the state oil company.

The two Venezuelan businessmen, Roberto Rincon and Abraham Shiera, were arrested almost a year ago in the United States and have pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Caracas-based PDVSA initially slammed the case as part of a wider U.S.-led conspiracy and "smear campaign" against socialism. But in its 2015 financial statement, published in July, PDVSA said an internal investigation found it had been the victim of fraud.

On Thursday night, PDVSA said it had given its legal representatives instructions to seek compensation in what is one of Venezuela's biggest corruption cases.

"PDVSA's board of directors has authorized the start of legal actions to ensure compensation for harm suffered due to various types of fraud perpetrated by former contractors, who, in complicity with former employees, obtained procurement contracts via acts of corruption," the company's statement said.

The indictment of Rincon and Shiera said five PDVSA officials received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, which were paid chiefly in the form of wire transfers but also through mortgage payments, airline tickets and, in one case, whiskey.

Critics have long accused PDVSA, the financial motor of President Nicolas Maduro's leftist administration, of corruption and say the Rincon-Shiera case is but the tip of the iceberg.

The company has maintained it is the target of a right-wing smear campaign, led by the United States and compliant international media, to sabotage its leftist administration. It was not immediately clear what kind of legal action PDVSA would take.

The company did not respond to a request for details.

A report by the opposition-led Venezuelan Congress accused PDVSA of corruption last month, saying about $11 billion in funds went missing while Rafael Ramirez, currently Venezuela's U.N. envoy, was at the helm from 2004-14. Ramirez slammed the report as "irresponsible lies."

The alleged $11 billion includes funds linked to the bribery scheme involving Rincon and Shiera, who still await sentencing in the United States. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons; Editing by Bill Trott)

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