Three years after the Venezuelan government arrested a group of American oil executives ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, a judge for the socialist regime has sentenced them to prison.
The six men—Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas, and Jose Pereira—were sentenced after the government accused them of engaging in corruption, according to the Associated Press.
The six traveled to the country back in 2017 as employees of Citgo—a Texas-based refinery the parent company of which is owned by Venezuela—for what they believed was a budget meeting in Caracas, but they were arrested soon after arriving.
Jesus Loreto, a defense attorney, told AP that the Venezulan government doesn’t “have any evidence to hold these guys accountable for any wrongdoing,” and should release them. In a letter obtained by the Associated Press before the verdict, Vadell said he was hopeful he would be cleared of the charges.
“During the trial, the truth has proven undeniable,” Vadell wrote in the letter. “It proves that I am innocent.”
The five who are U.S. citizens received a prison sentence of eight years and nine months, while the sixth man — Pereia, a U.S. permanent resident — received a 13-year sentence.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom the U.S. does not recognize as the legitimate leader of the country, justified the arrest in a public speech back in 2017, reports WSJ.
“These people were born in Venezuela. They’re Venezuelans and they’ll be tried for corruption, for being thieves and traitors against the fatherland,” declared Maduro.
Around fifty others had already been arrested in the months leading up to the detainment of the CITGO-6, reported The New York Times in 2017. The arrests came as PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, was close to defaulting on its bond debts.
Several days ago, on the three-year anniversary of the arrest, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement accusing the Venezuelan government of engaging in wrongful detainment and calling on the government to release the men to the U.S.
November 21 marks the third year since Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas, and Jose Pereira — known as the CITGO-6 — 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 U.S. government has repeatedly called for the unconditional release of the CITGO-6 and their return to the United States. These six Americans and their families have suffered long enough; it is time for Maduro to put politics aside and let these families be reunited. No one should doubt the President’s commitment to bringing home all U.S. citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, and I will continue to pursue our mission to secure the release of the CITGO-6, and we will do our utmost to achieve that goal.
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