Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Venezuela gives Shell 15 days to pay back-tax debt

AP , CARACAS, VENEZUELA

Venezuela has presented a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell Group a bill for 281 billion bolivars (US$130 million) in back-taxes spanning three years, company officials said on Friday.

The claim, filed with Shell by Venezuela's tax agency, Seniat, on Thursday, covers the period between 2001 and last year. Seniat has given the oil giant 15 days to pay or face hefty fines.

"We have a team working very hard on this ... analyzing the details of this claim. Our books are completely open and we continue to be open to the scrutiny of Venezuelan tax authorities, and we will continue to cooperate," Shell spokesman Luis Prado said.

The claim is the latest move by President Hugo Chavez's leftist government to collect what officials say is more than US$3 billion in back-taxes owed the Venezuela by foreign oil companies operating in the country.

On Thursday, Seniat officials seized tax-related documents from Chevron Corp's administrative office in Venezuela, saying the company had repeatedly failed to comply with requests for the information.

Chavez' administration has accused oil companies running Venezuela's 32 operating agreements of violating oil contracts for years and failing to pay taxes.

The tax issue has further strained relations with foreign oil firms already upset by Venezuelan pressure to accept changes to long-standing oil contracts under a revised hydrocarbons law.

Venezuela is the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

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