Eni, Italy’s biggest energy company, is demanding more than $1bn (£632m) worth of crude oil by Iran, despite the EU banning oil imports from the country.
EU governments with existing contracts to import crude from Iran can continue until July 1. However Eni was excused because it does not buy oil from Iran but receives it as payments for previous investments.
Iran has been paying back Eni for these old investments for several decades. Eni was owed $3bn in oil from Iran three years ago.
The amount of Iranian crude purchased by Eni has been “declining”, according to chief executive Paulo Scaroni, and will be replaced with oil from Saudi Arabia and other unspecified countries.
Eni’s refining and marketing division has lost €1.2bn (£1bn) over the past three years, leading to rumours the group might downsize its refining operations. Eni cannot close any plants until 2014 following a previous agreement with trade unions.
"If the market remains weak we can reduce capacity. But we have a commitment not to close any plants until 2014," Scaroni said.