After three years awaiting trial, the group referred to as the Citgo 6 received years-long jail sentences from a Venezuelan judge.
On Thursday, the Citgo 6 (Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira) finally heard from Venezuala’s court system, and the news wasn’t great. Five of the men received jail sentences of eight years and 10 months. One earned a 13-year sentence. Attorneys for the defense suggested that — realistically — the Citgo 6 could be eligible for parole in a couple of years.
A Fateful Thanksgiving Trip
In 2017, controversial Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro vowed publicly to rid the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, of rampant corruption. One of the first targets of Maduro’s probe was Citgo, the Houston-based oil company owned by PDVSA. As part of the investigation, six high-ranking Citgo employees were lured to Venezuela under the pretenses of a budget meeting.
On November 21, 2017, the Citgo 6 boarded a private jet. They were assured by their parent company, PDVSA, that they would be back in just a few days. Once they arrived in a PDVSA boardroom, however, the men were apprehended by armed military officers and charged with corruption.
A Family in Anguish
The charges against the men stem from claims that they embezzled nearly $4 billion in Citgo bonds. Alirio Rafael Zambrano, brother to two of the defendants, called the charges complete fabrications and claimed his family is the victim of “judicial terrorism.”
Zambrano’s outcry is echoed by the other family members of the Citgo 6. They claim the men are being held in deplorable conditions. They are held in dirty, overcrowded prison cells and fed too little to eat.
The Ongoing Trial
Earlier in the month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo underscored the current administration’s desire to have the Citgo 6 released. “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,” he said, adding, “No one should doubt the President’s commitment to bringing home all US citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas.”
Whether there is enough time for the Trump administration to accomplish this task before the transition is uncertain. President-elect Joe Biden has yet to speak definitively about the issue. It’s a safe assumption that the new administration will pick up the reigns. How much a priority the release of the Citgo 6 will be is unclear.
María Alejandra Poleo, attorney for three of the men, said the defense would immediately appeal the conviction.