US court analyzing 12 preliminary bids in Citgo share auction


By Marianna Parraga and Tom Hals

HOUSTON/WILMINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. federal court is weighing 12 initial bids from private investment funds and companies participating in an auction of shares of refiner Citgo Petroleum’s parent, a court officer said in a hearing on Tuesday.

Creditors claiming billions of dollars for past expropriations in Venezuela and defaulted debt have flocked to U.S. courts to have arbitration awards and rulings enforced through an auction of shares in a parent of the South American country’s foreign crown jewel, Houston-based oil refiner Citgo Petroleum.

Claims before the court exceed $22 billion, much greater than the $11 billion-$13 billion market value estimated for Citgo. Even through Judge Leonard Stark has underlined the need to “draw a line” to avoid more creditors rushing to join the sales process after court deadlines expired, a final list of creditors has not been disclosed.

The court and investment banker Evercore Group, selected to market the shares, initially identified 90 parties that could participate in the first bidding round, which received bids through Jan. 22, officials said.

About 30 parties signed non-binding agreements and received relevant information and a Citgo financial model, and 12 parties submitted indications of interest, a representative for court officer Robert Pincus said in the hearing.

The bidders were not identified because the court has sealed the bidding process. However, the court officer described the parties as private investment funds and companies engaged in petroleum refining and related industries.

“The indications of interest are quite disappointing. And we’re working hard to see if they can be raised, but we have a great deal of concern and where we are at this point,” said a lawyer representing Citgo and its parent PDV Holding.

The sale, expected to be one of the largest U.S. court auctions, was launched last October to settle a long-running legal battle filed by Canadian miner Crystallex Corp. Over a dozen other companies have attached their own judgments to the case.

Citgo requested seven days to analyze the proposals, which was granted by judge Stark.

The court has received bids using claims in lieu of cash, including from the largest creditor, ConocoPhillips, people familiar with the process told Reuters earlier this month.

Conoco exited oil refining 12 years ago when it spun off Phillips 66. It remains unclear whether the credit bid was placed with another company or intended to secure Citgo assets that could be broken off.

In addition to Conoco, energy companies Chevron (CVX.N), Reliance Industries, Koch Industries and Valero Energy, and at least one activist investor have expressed interest in the sales process. Dozens of bidders began due diligence late last year, seeking information for the non-binding first round, the people said.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga and Tom Hals; editing by Gary McWilliams, Alexandra Hudson)

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