Venezuelan court sentences six former Citgo executives to prison

Venezuelan court sentences six former Citgo executives to prison

A Venezuelan court sentenced six former executives of United States refiner Citgo to prison after finding them guilty of corruption on Thursday.

The officials were arrested in November 2017 after being called into a meeting at the Caracas office of state oil company PDVSA, which owns Citgo. They were accused of crimes such as embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy.

The former president of the company, Jose Pereira, was fined $2m and sentenced to 13 years and seven months in jail, while the five others – former Citgo vice presidents Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Gustavo Cardenas – were sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

The six denied wrongdoing and a lawyer on their defence team said they planned to appeal.

“The evidence for the crimes they are accused of was not there, it did not even mention the six of them,” said the lawyer, Maria Alejandra.

“The defence, we were ready for this decision because they are political prisoners.”

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters news agency.

A relative of one of the sentenced men said the families are in communication with US officials.

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido took control of Houston-based Citgo, Venezuela’s most profitable overseas asset, in 2019 after the United States recognised him as the country’s legitimate president.

Washington has called for the release of the group, which includes naturalised US citizens.

President Nicolas Maduro retains control of most state functions and the Venezuelan operations of PDVSA, which are under US-imposed sanctions.