CARACAS, Venezuela – A Venezuelan judge on Thursday found six American oil executives guilty of far-reaching corruption schemes and immediately sentenced them to prison.
The so-called Citgo 6 – an employee of the Houston-based Citgo refinery company Pdvsa, which belongs to the Venezuelan state oil company – was lured to a business meeting in Venezuela and arrested three years ago.
The men – Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira – have each been in prison for more than eight years. Five are Venezuelan-American citizens with roots in Texas and Louisiana, and one is a permanent US resident, according to media reports.
With her arrest, President Nicolás Maduro’s government began a cleanup of Venezuela’s once thriving oil industry, which was built on the world’s largest crude oil reserves. It later arrested the head of PDVSA, a former oil minister, and dozens of others.
Prior to the sentencing, a senior executive, Mr Vadell, who has been incarcerated in Venezuela for three years, said in a letter to The Associated Press that all he hoped for was a fair trial so that he clear his name and leave could home his family in the United States.
Mr Vadell, 61, said it was especially painful to be separated from his wife, three grown children, and a newborn grandchild whom he never held during Thanksgiving season.
“Before we witnessed this tragedy, these celebrations were a very special time for our family,” he wrote, saying he embraced the traditional American holiday after moving from Caracas to Lake Charles, La., In 1999 for a job with the Venezuelan Citgo was drawn. “Now they bring me a lot of sadness,” he said.
It was the first time since his arrest that Mr. Vadell or any of Citgo 6 had spoken publicly.
Mr. Vadell and five other Citgo executives were called to the headquarters of the Venezuelan state oil company Pdvsa, the parent company of Houston-based Citgo, because they had been notified of a budget meeting on November 21, 2017. A business jet took them to Caracas and they were told they would be home for Thanksgiving.
Instead, a cadre of military intelligence officers swarmed the boardroom and took them to jail. Her trial began four months ago and final arguments took place on Thursday.
Mr Vadell was held in a dreaded Caracas prison called El Helicoide.
Despite his circumstances, he said, he hoped for a better future.
“During the trial, the truth has been shown to be incontrovertible,” he said in the four-page handwritten letter. “It proves that I’m innocent.”