Citgo Petroleum Corp., the Houston-based oil refiner controlled by Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas giant, has tapped its top in-house lawyer to serve as its new compliance chief.

Jack Lynch was announced Tuesday as Citgo’s new chief ethics and compliance officer. His appointment comes more than four months after Lynch was hired by Citgo to serve as its vice president of legal and government affairs.

“I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to examine and strengthen the company’s processes and procedures, as well as design new programs that advance our commitment to ethical conduct, compliance with law, and corporate governance,” Lynch said in a statement.

His new role comes as Citgo grapples with a bribery investigation involving its parent company in Venezuela, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.

Citgo received a subpoena from federal prosecutors in May 2019 just before Miami executive Jose Manuel Gonzalez Testino pleaded guilty to paying bribes to win business from Petroleos de Venezuela, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Bloomberg News reported. At the time, Citgo pledged its full cooperation with the probe.

The company hired Lynch, a former deputy general counsel for British oil giant BP p.l.c.’s U.S. arm, in October. He replaced Alejandro Escarra, a former vice president of legal affairs at Citgo and one of several executives that Reuters reported were ousted from the company in early 2019 due to their ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Lynch oversees Judith Colbert, a longtime in-house lawyer at Citgo who was elevated to general counsel in late 2017.

The following year Citgo hired Thomas Coleman, a Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law graduate who spent nearly five years running the legal department for the city of Reading, Pa., as a government affairs and legislative specialist on chemical, energy, environmental, and oil and gas issues.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Jones Day, and Chicago-based litigation boutique Eimer Stahl have handled more than 42% of Citgo’s litigation caseload in the past five years, according to Bloomberg Law data. Other law firms that have worked for the company during the same time frame include Hogan Lovells, Husch Blackwell, Pierce Atwood, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer.

Arnold & Porter made news last year for switching its allegiance from Maduro to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó when the Trump administration recognized Guaidó as president of the country following a disputed election. Guaidó and Maduro subsequently have battled in U.S. courts for control of Citgo.

Powering Up

Citgo isn’t the only energy company starting out 2020 by revamping its legal and compliance operations.

Avista Corp. is preparing to replace longtime chief legal officer Marian Durkin with general counsel Gregory Hesler once she retires this summer. David Meyer, an in-house lawyer at Avista since 1998 who serves as a vice president and chief counsel for regulatory and government affairs at the company, will continue in his current role, Hesler said in an email to Bloomberg Law.

Other companies in the energy space making in-house appointments this year include:

  • Jan. 8: Motiva Enterprises LLC, an affiliate of Saudi Refining Inc.—which previously operated the Houston-based company as a joint venture with Shell Oil Co.—announced its hire of former Aramco Services Co. senior counsel Amy Marlyse Plato as general counsel and business compliance officer. Motiva operates the largest oil refinery in the U.S. in Port Arthur, Texas.
  • Jan. 21: Origin Energy Ltd., an Australian energy company, announced its recruitment of Kate Jordan as general counsel, executive general manager, and company secretariat for risk and governance. Jordan previously served as a Sydney-based deputy chief executive partner at Clayton Utz, one of the largest law firms in Australia.
  • Jan. 22: Express Energy Services LLC, a Houston-based oilfield services company, hired vice president and general counsel Amy Holmes. She had been vice president, deputy general counsel, and assistant secretary at Scientific Drilling International Inc..
  • Jan. 28: Berry Petroleum Corp. announced its hire of former C&J Energy Services Ltd. general counsel and chief risk and compliance officer Danielle Hunter as general counsel and corporate secretary in Dallas. Hunter replaced Kendrick Royer, who had held the general counsel role at Berry since 2017.
  • Feb. 5: Flotek Industries Inc., a company providing upstream oil and gas services, announced its addition of Nicholas Bigney as general counsel and corporate secretary in Houston. Bigney recently served as general counsel for Oiltanking North America LLC.