HOUSTON, (Reuters) – Former Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez asked a federal judge in Houston yesterday to set aside a $1.4 billion default verdict against him in a fraud suit brought by a defunct Houston oil company, according to court documents.
Ramirez, who was Venezuela’s oil minister for 12 years and later served as the country’s foreign minister and U.N. ambassador, said Harvest Natural Resources Inc and HNR Energia BV had failed to properly serve him notice of the lawsuit.
“Given that Ramirez was not properly served and that he lives in Europe out of the public eye, his default was not willful, and he has acted as expeditiously as he could to address the default in light of the issues caused by his being abroad,” a court filing said.
Dane Ball, a partner with law firm Smyser Kaplan & Veselka LLP, which represents Harvest, declined to comment.
U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal issued the default judgment on Feb. 13 after Ramirez did not contest Harvest Natural Resources’ claims, according to an opinion accompanying the ruling.
Harvest’s suit claimed Venezuela had refused to allow the company to sell its assets in the country since 2012, leading it to lose $472 million. It accused Ramirez and others of seeking a $10 million bribe to approve the transaction.