A Venezuelan judge sentenced six American oil executives to jail on Thursday after they were found guilty of corruption charges.
The six Citgo executives were sentenced to more than eight years in prison each after being asked to travel to Venezuela for a business meeting three years ago, according to The Associated Press.
Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano and Jose Pereira are all accused of embezzlement relating to a plan to refinance $4 billion in Citgo bonds that was never carried out.
All the men are currently American citizens except for Pereira who is a permanent resident of the U.S.
The Houston-based refining company is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.
According to the wire service, the so-called Citgo 6 were summoned to Caracas for a budget meeting in November 2017. While they were shuttled to the country’s capital, they were told that they were going to be home by Thanksgiving.
Instead, military officers met them at the boardroom and put them in jail, according to the AP. The trial began four months ago, and closing arguments were heard on Thanksgiving this year.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has accused the executives of “treason,” but each of the executives has pleaded their innocence, according to the news outlet.
After the men were arrested, Maduro began a thorough purge of Venezuela’s oil industry, which is based on the largest crude oil reserves in the world. The AP reports the head of PDVSA and former oil minister were arrested, along with several others.
Media and rights groups have not been allowed access to the trial and the process was largely stalled due to the pandemic.
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