CARACAS, Venezuela–November 26th, 2020–Six American oil executives held for three years in Venezuela were found guilty of corruption charges by a judge Thursday and immediately sentenced to prison, dashing any hopes that their families had that they would be home for Thanksgiving.
The US Department of State protested the convictions:
Three years have passed since the CITGO-6 were wrongfully detained in Venezuela. Their release is long overdue. The @realDonaldTrump Administration remains committed to bringing home all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 21, 2020
The US citizens were accused of crimes such as embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy.
Five of the men received jail terms of 8 years and 10 months. The interim president of Citgo at the time of his arrest, Jose Pereira, was given a 13-year 7-month term.
“The evidence for the crimes they are accused of was not there, it did not even mention the six of them,” said defense lawyer, Maria Alejandra. “We were ready for this decision because they are political prisoners.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called for their release on Saturday. Pompeo said the men were “lured to Caracas for business meetings, wrongfully detained by masked security agents, and then thrown into one of Venezuela’s most dangerous prisons.”
The six men were held in a prison known as El Helicoide, known for overcrowding and the torture of inmates.
They were indicted with embezzling from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion (€3.4 billion) in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral.
They denied the charges. The trial was not open to the public or reporters, so the exact nature of the evidence presented against them, or their rebuttal, is not known.
U.S. prosecutors have also charged a former Citgo Petroleum manager with accepting $2.5 million as part of a scheme to bribe officials with the U.S. refiner and its Venezuelan parent to win business contracts, but the cases are not thought to be connected.