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Originally published Monday, February 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Chávez warns U.S.: Seize assets, lose oil

President Hugo Chávez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States in an "economic war" if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to...

The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez on Sunday threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States in an "economic war" if Exxon Mobil Corp. wins court judgments to seize billions of dollars in Venezuelan assets.

Exxon Mobil has gone after the assets of state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA in U.S., British and Dutch courts as it challenges the nationalization of a multibillion-dollar oil project by Chávez's government.

A British court has issued an injunction "freezing" as much as $12 billion in assets.

"If you end up freezing [Venezuelan assets] and it harms us, we're going to harm you," Chávez said in his weekly radio and TV program.

Chávez has repeatedly threatened to cut off oil shipments to the United States, which is Venezuela's No. 1 client, if Washington tries to oust him. Chávez's warnings on Sunday appeared to extend that threat to attempts by oil companies to challenge his government's nationalization drive through lawsuits.

"The outlaws of Exxon Mobil will never again rob us," Chávez said, accusing the Irving, Texas-based oil company of acting in concert with Washington.

Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Margaret Ross said the company had no comment.

Venezuela accounted for about 12 percent of U.S. crude-oil imports in November, the latest figures available from the U.S. Energy Department. The 1.23 million barrels a day from Venezuela makes that country the U.S.' fourth-biggest oil importer behind Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has argued that court orders won by Exxon Mobil have "no effect" on the state oil company PDVSA and are merely "transitory measures" while Venezuela presents its case in courts in New York and London.

Exxon Mobil is also taking its claims to international arbitration, disputing the terms it was granted under Chávez's nationalization last year of four heavy oil projects in the Orinoco River basin, one of the world's richest oil deposits.

Other major oil companies including U.S.-based Chevron Corp., France's Total, Britain's BP PLC, and Norway's StatoilHydro ASA have negotiated deals with Venezuela to continue on as minority partners in the Orinoco oil project.

ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil, however, balked and have been in compensation talks with PDVSA.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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