Study shows energy industry powers La. economy _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- The ExxonMobil Refinery in Baton Rouge is the nation's third-largest refinery. Two others in Louisiana are in the top five: Marathon in Garyville and Citgo in Lake Charles.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela will hold onto its U.S.-based Citgo refineries, including one in Lake Charles, settling a lawsuit that threw ownership of the struggling country's prized assets into peril.

Court papers show that Venezuela on Friday began paying off $1.4 billion that a panel said was owed to the Canadian mining firm Crystallex, following a disputed takeover of the company by the late-President Hugo Chavez.

To recoup its losses, Crystallex had targeted Citgo refineries, potentially forcing Venezuela to sell off its most valuable foreign asset.

Citgo operates a 426,000-barrel-per-day-capacity refinery in Lake Charles, the sixth-largest refinery in the U.S., employing 1,800 company and contract workers. Its other U.S. refineries are in Corpus Christi, Texas, 157,000 barrels per day with 1,050 workers, and Lemont, Illinois, 167,000 barrels per day and 1,050 workers.

Papers filed in a Canadian court say Venezuela recently paid Crystallex $425 million, while agreeing to make good on the rest by 2021. That enables them to hold onto their refineries.

Russ Dallen, of Miami-based Caracas Capital Markets, said the payment shows Venezuela's changing tactics — from fighting creditors to striking deals.