Tiny Turkish firm among buyers of U.S.-sanctioned Venezuelan oil

Blocked by U.S. sanctions, Venezuela’s state-owned energy firm has turned to smaller international buyers that include an Istanbul-based construction startup with ties to Nicolas Maduro’s government, Reuters reported on Monday. 

Previously, top petroleum firms like Chevron and Valero would line up to take shipments from state-owned PDVSA, but U.S. sanctions imposed in January in an effort to oust Maduro have changed all that, and PDVSA’s exports have since slumped by more than a fifth, according to Reuters. 

In March the firm waived some requirements for new customers, including two years' oil industry experience, which enabled a Turkish company called Grupo Iveex Insaat to start buying Venezuelan oil, sources told Reuters. Iveex Insaat was formed less than a year ago with capital of just 10,000 lira ($1,775) and listed "residential construction" as its main activity, according to Istanbul Chamber of Commerce records. 

The firm is owned by Miguel Silva, a Venezuelan businessman who heads the Caracas-based Venezuelan Exporters’ Chamber and served as housing ministry commissioner in Maduro’s administration, said Reuters. Silva registered Iveex Insaat with a Turkish partner, tour guide Erhan Kap, in late September 2018, a week after Maduro visited Istanbul.

Iveex accepted nearly 8 percent of Venezuelan crude and products in April, then none in May or June, according to PDVSA documents. Sources told Reuters that Iveex had agreed to receive the crude then deliver refined products to Venezuela. Reuters was unable to confirm who would ultimately buy and refine the crude, as the company has no refineries. 

Iveex’s website says it is a “physical commodity trading and distribution company” focused on petroleum products and crude oil with offices in London, Istanbul and Caracas. It says it uses a “leased fleet of regional vessels”, according to Reuters. 

The deals with Iveex highlight growing commercial links between Venezuela and Turkey, whose President Tayyip Erdoğan has stood by Maduro, alongside Russia, Cuba and China. Turkey is one of the main buyers of Venezuelan gold, an important source of cash as oil output falls.