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Venezuela shuts Total, ENI offices on taxes

Written by: Staff
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CARACAS, Venezuela, Mar 16 (Reuters) Venezuelan tax authorities have shut the administrative offices of French oil company Total and Italy's ENI for 48 hours due to bookkeeping irregularities, an official today said.

Venezuela, the world's No 5 oil exporter, has briefly shut the offices of scores of foreign and local companies as part of a broad crackdown on tax payments.

Seniat tax agency director for special contributions Jose Cedillo said the administrative closures would not affect crude production at the two companies.

Total is currently in talks with tax authorities over a 107.4 million dollars back tax bill the government says the company must pay as part of a probe into income tax payments made by the energy sector from 2001 to 2004.

In Paris, a Total spokeswoman said the company was surprised by the closure but that it hoped to be open again by Monday.

''It's hard to understand the tax authorities. We have been meeting in the past few days,'' she said.

ENI representatives could not be reached at the company's offices in Caracas.

The Seniat tax agency said last year 22 oilfield contractors failed to pay the correct income tax on their operations and had to hand over back tax payments before they could join new joint ventures giving state oil firm PDVSA a majority stake.

Seniat said on Tuesday it had given Total more time to pay the back tax bill and that the company had agreed to hand over at least part of that payment this week.

REUTERS OM KP2236

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