OREANDA-NEWS. January 25, 2017. Venezuela's supreme court has stripped the office of the comptroller general of the republic, a civilian entity, of its constitutional authority to conduct annual external audits of all companies owned by the armed forces.

The ruling — issued quietly by the supreme court's political-administration division on 15 December 2016 and just released this week — ensures that military-owned companies like the Oil, Gas and Mining Corporation (Camimpeg), created in February 2016, only can be audited by the defense ministry's internal comptroller.

Stripping the civilian comptroller general's constitutional authority to audit military-owned companies assures they can operate in greater secrecy as Camimpeg ventures for the first time into upstream oil services operations on Lake Maracaibo in Zulia state, independent Caracas-based analyst Robert Bottome tells Argus.

Military-owned companies like Camimpeg report exclusively to the defense ministry. Constitutional civilian oversight authority is supposed to be exercised by the national assembly and office of the comptroller general. But the supreme court, which is majority-controlled by judges loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, has effectively neutered both entities.

The supreme court's mid-December ruling, issued as the country's judiciary shut down for traditional year-end holidays that unofficially last up to a month, appears to have been timed deliberately to delay public issuance of the actual document until this month.

But two weeks after the court's ruling, Camimpeg in association with Venezuelan-owned Miami-based oil services company Southern Procurement Services assumed possession and operational control of two oil services wharves previously operated by state-owned PdV on Lake Maracaibo.

Camimpeg aims to use the Ali Primera and Pedro Lucas Urribarri wharves, on the lake's western shore, to help PdV double crude production up to a combined 40,000 b/d from mature oil fields, the defense ministry said.

Camimpeg also will provide unspecified oil services to three of PdV's upstream joint ventures in the area: PetroZamora, with Russian minority partner Gazprombank; PetroQuiriquire with Spanish minority partner Repsol; and PetroUrdaneta, with Brazilian minority partner Odebrecht, the ministry said.

Camimpeg is eyeing other potential oil-related ventures in Zulia involving the direct operation of mature producing fields on the east coast of Lake Maracaibo. This includes Lagunillas, Mene Grande, Ciudad Ojeda, La Canada de Urdaneta, Bachaquero and Tia Juana, the ministry said. The aging fields are part of PdV's western division where light and medium oil production is declining. The downturn has accelerated since the government nationalized oil services companies there in 2009.

Camimpeg also is interested in joint venturing in possible upstream crude and associated gas opportunities in the Orinoco oil belt region, and exporting petroleum coke from state-owned oil company PdV's Jose complex in Anzoategui where over 20mn metric tons of petcoke are piled up, according to the defense ministry.

Camimpeg also is discussing potential coltan mining ventures in Bolivar state with Russian and Chinese companies, the ministry added.

Camimpeg has no direct oil industry and mining experience, the defense ministry acknowledged.