March 9, 2018 / 1:52 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Venezuela's PDVSA sues oil traders over corruption scheme -lawyer

(Adds details on lawsuit, context on PDVSA)

By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS, March 8 (Reuters) - Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has sued a group of oil trading companies through a U.S. trust over a multi-billion dollar corruption scheme to buy petroleum products below market value, the lawyer representing the trust said on Thursday.

The lawsuit accuses a small Miami-based company called Helsinge Inc of obtaining inside information and rigging bid proceedings by bribing PDVSA officials including current Vice President Ysmel Serrano in a scheme that yielded billions of dollars in illicit gains, according to the lawsuit.

Helsinge also provided inside information to trading companies including Lukoil Petroleum Ltd, Colonial Oi1 Industries, Inc, Glencore Ltd, Vitol SA and Trafigura AG, which the lawsuit describes as “Oil Company Co-Conspirators” that also benefited.

Serrano, Helsinge and the other oil companies did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The suit follows a recent sweep at PDVSA that put dozens of employees in jail in what President Nicolas Maduro calls an anti-corruption crusade but critics dismiss as factional rivalries within a corrupt elite.

“I think this lawsuit ... illustrates the extent to which PDVSA and the Republic of Venezuela are now prepared to go after corruption regardless of who the people involved are,” said David Boies, chairman of law firm Boies Schiller Flexner which is representing the trust, in a telephone interview.

The suit was filed by a group called “PDVSA US Litigation Trust,” which will litigate claims against those accused of involvement in the bribery scheme, Boies said. Any proceeds will be sent to PDVSA.

“If you’re thinking about this in terms of the layperson, this is a suit by PDVSA,” he said.

PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Corina Pons; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston, Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)

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