August 21, 2019 / 6:29 PM / a month ago

U.S. judge confirms Citgo directors appointed by Venezuelan congress

Aug 21 (Reuters) - The Citgo Petroleum board of directors appointed by Venezuela's opposition congress chief was confirmed by a U.S. judge on Wednesday, ending a challenge by former directors loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Citgo, the eighth-largest U.S. refiner and the most important foreign asset for Venezuela's crisis-stricken economy, has been caught up in a political battle as Washington has sought to use it to weaken Maduro's grip on power.

The order signed by a Delaware Chancery Court judge further diminishes Maduro's efforts to reclaim control over Houston-based Citgo, a subsidiary of state-run PDVSA. The company this month named a former Citgo executive, Carlos Jorda, as its new chief executive officer, succeeding Maduro-backed appointee Asdrubal Chavez.

Juan Guaido, the chief of Venezuela's congress who has been recognized by the Trump administration as the South American country's legitimate leader, in February appointed the new board to Citgo, which is incorporated in Delaware. Guaido's team wanted to secure control of the business and protect it from legal attempts to seize Venezuelan foreign assets.

Maduro, who says he is the victim of an attempted U.S.-led coup, has accused the opposition of trying to "steal" Citgo.

Earlier this month, Delaware Chancery Court Vice Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick ruled that the opposition-backed directors were legitimately appointed, although she delayed a final order to allow the former directors time to challenge the process.

PDVSA and a lawyer for the former directors did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The former directors could appeal.

Citgo is planning to introduce Jorda to investors on Wednesday, according to company sources. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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