Venezuela's Maduro taps sanctioned VP to 'restructure' oil industry

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference in Caracas

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday he would create a presidential commission to restructure the country's beleaguered oil industry, which will be led by Vice President for the Economy Tareck El Aissami.

The announcement came a day after the United States sanctioned Rosneft Trading, a unit of Russian state oil company Rosneft <ROSN.MN>, that has emerged as a major intermediary for Venezuelan crude since Washington blacklisted Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA, last year to try to oust Maduro.

Declaring an "energy emergency," Maduro set a goal for Venezuela to raise crude output to 2 million barrels per day this year, more than double current levels.

"The sanctions, the blockade - I will not accept any more excuses," Maduro said. "I am signing a decree to declare an energy emergency in the hydrocarbons industry in order to adapt necessary and urgent measures to guarantee national energy security and protect the industry from imperialist aggression."

Oil Minister and PDVSA President Manuel Quevedo will serve on the commission, Maduro said. Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, as well other cabinet officials and union leaders, will also serve on the commission.

The grouping will also include Asdrubal Chavez, a cousin of late leftist President Hugo Chavez who was the chief executive of PDVSA's Houston-based refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp, until Venezuela's opposition wrested control of that company following sanctions last year.

Maduro has frequently blamed U.S. sanctions for a collapse in oil production that accelerated ever since he named Quevedo, a former National Guard major general with no prior oil industry experience, to lead PDVSA.

In a speech to PDVSA workers at the company's Caracas headquarters, Maduro did not outline specific changes to policies affecting the oil industry. He said the commission would have "complete power for the changes, transformations, and integral defence of the entire oil industry from A to Z."

The naming of El Aissami to lead the commission was likely to derail any efforts to ease the company's international isolation in the face of sanctions.

El Aissami himself was sanctioned by the United States three years ago for alleged drug trafficking. Last year, the U.S. government announced criminal charges against El Aissami for alleged sanctions circumvention and alleged violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

In response, El Aissami said, "They can accuse us of whatever they want."


(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Luc Cohen and Mayela Armas; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang)