Bankers representing Venezuela have fixed a date for potential buyers to submit revised offers for Citgo Petroleum's US refineries, regardless of the fact that the country's finance minister has ruled out a sale.

Investment bank Lazard, roped in by Venezuelan national oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to explore a sale of Citgo, has set a late-December deadline for new offers, Reuters reported.

However, it is unclear if Citgo's owner will press ahead with a sale of its US refining and marketing unit as Venezuela's finance minister Rodolfo Marco has said that Citgo's assets will not be disposed.

Pursued by the news agency, a Lazard representative refused to comment. A Citgo representative did not immediately provide comment. Officials at PDVSA and Venezuela's oil ministry could not be reached for comment.

The development is the latest instance of the ambiguity over Citgo, which pays out hefty dividends to its cash-strapped parent PDVSA at a time when falling oil prices are adding to its debt woes.

A first round of bids attracted several US-based firms including Marathon Petroleum, Valero Energy, PBF Energy, HollyFrontier and India's Reliance Industries.

Prospective buyers carried out some due diligence, including site visits to Citgo Petroleum's refineries even as Caracas said those assets will not be disposed

In a 26 October interview published in Venezuelan media, Marco said Citgo's sale "has been ruled out".

$10bn Deal

The core of Citgo's US assets are three refineries in Illinois, Louisiana and Texas with a combined capacity of 750,000 barrels per day (bpd). Citgo also has 48 oil terminals.

A sale could help Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) rake in about $10bn (€8bn, £6.4bn).

The winning bidder will acquire major refining capacity in the US Midwest and on the Gulf Coast, benefiting from a boom in American oil production.

Caracas Cash Crunch

Analysts have said that Venezuela wants to dispose of Citgo in part due to a cash crunch, triggered after Caracas repaid debts to Beijing with oil instead of selling crude to generate revenue, analysts have said.

Caracas has, however, denied that a cashflow problem exists.

Venezuela also faces several international arbitration cases as a result of nationalisations under late President Hugo Chavez. A sale of the US refineries will purge the possibility of them being seized should a court examining such claims rule against Venezuela.