Six US oil leaders detained in Venezuela for three years have been found guilty of corruption charges and sentenced to eight to 13 years in prison.
Washington has repeatedly asked Caracas to release the so-called Citgo 6, which are employees of the Houston-based Citgo refining company, owned by the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
They had been lured to Venezuela for a business meeting three years ago and were arrested on charges of corruption.
Six US oil leaders (pictured) jailed for three years in Venezuela have been found guilty of corruption charges and sentenced to eight to 13 years in prison
A business jet took them to Caracas and they were told they would be home for Thanksgiving, but military intelligence officers entered the boardroom and took them to prison.
The company’s former president, Jose Pereira Ruimwyk, a Venezuelan citizen with U.S. residence, was sentenced to 13 years and 7 months on charges of embezzlement and conspiracy, among other charges, the court said. He was also fined $ 2 million.
Former Vice Presidents Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Gustavo Cardenas were sentenced to more than eight years.
One of the men’s attorneys told AFP his client planned to appeal the ruling.
The company’s former president, Jose Pereira Ruimwyk (pictured), a Venezuelan citizen with US residence, was jailed for 13 years and seven months.
“The evidence for the crimes they are accused of wasn’t there, it didn’t even mention the six,” said lawyer Maria Alejandra.
“The defense, we were ready for this decision because they are political prisoners.”
Their arrest sparked a purge by the government of President Nicolas Maduro of the PDVSA and at a time when relations between Caracas and Washington were crumbling as Venezuela plunged into an economic and social crisis.
Attorney Jesus Loreto said the five could be paroled within a few years on lesser terms.
Dennysse Vadell sits between her daughters Veronica, right, and Cristina with a digital photo of father and husband Tomeu sentenced to more than eight years in prison
Maria Elena Cardenas is pictured with her son Sergio, who has suffered nightmares since his father, Gustavo, was arrested in 2017
Alirio Rafael Zambrano, brother of two of the men, said they were “undeniably innocent” and victims of “judicial terrorism,” adding no evidence in the case to support a guilty conviction.
“We, the family, are devastated that we are even further apart from our loved ones,” he said.
“We pray that the leaders of our nation will step forward and continue to fight ceaselessly for their freedom and human rights.”
Ahead of the verdict, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office said investigators had found “serious evidence” confirming financial crimes potentially damaging the state-owned company.
This shocking image shows Citgo director Tomeu Vadell at his home in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 2015 (left) and in custody in Venezuela (right) – his family thinks he’s lost more than 60 pounds since his arrest
Their arrest led to a purge by the (photo) government of PDVSA by President Nicolas Maduro and at a time when relations between Caracas and Washington were crumbling
The families of the six men dispute the charges, saying Maduro controls the judiciary, which they say is notorious corruption.
Bill Richardson, US Democratic Party heavyweight who has led international negotiations for some high-profile US prisoners, traveled to Venezuela in mid-July and met Maduro.
He managed to release two of them and put them under house arrest, but the rest remained at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Service in Caracas.
Roger Carstens, the US hostage envoy, said in June that all six men were “in danger of death,” and some showed symptoms of Covid-19.
Wearing T-shirts with the message ‘Free the Citgo 6’, the Vadell family poses for a photo in Katy, Texas last year
Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaido took control of Houston-based Citgo, Venezuela’s most profitable foreign asset, in 2019.
The United States is one of several countries that no longer recognize Maduro as the president of Venezuela. Since early 2019, it has tried in vain to oust the leftist leader, who is in charge of a crumbling economy from which millions have fled.
Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido took control of Houston-based Citgo, Venezuela’s most profitable foreign asset, in 2019 after the United States recognized him as the country’s legitimate president.
President Nicolas Maduro retains control of most of the state functions and PDVSA’s Venezuelan operations, which are under US-imposed sanctions.
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