American oil executives convicted of corruption in Venezuela

A Venezuelan court has sentenced six former oil executives of US refiner Citgo to jail on corruption charges. Deutsche Welle reports.

The five men, who were all vice-presidents of the company at the time, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Gustavo Cardenas, received prison sentences of nearly 9 years. Citgo’s former president, Jose Pereira, was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison and given a $ 2 million fine.

Citgo is a refining company based in Houston and owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, Sociedad Anonima (PDVSA).

The convicts were arrested on November 21, 2017.

They were charged with embezzling funds from an unfulfilled proposal to refinance Citgo bonds worth about $ 4 billion, by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral.

Venezuela’s prosecutors said that investigators had found «serious evidence» that confirmed the financial crimes that could damage PDVSA.

Representatives of the press and human rights defenders were not allowed to attend the proceedings.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for their release and said that the men were «lured to Caracas for business meetings, wrongfully detained by masked security agents, and then thrown into one of Venezuela’s most dangerous prisons» known as El Helicoide.

The arrests marked the beginning of a widespread anti-corruption campaign in Venezuela’s oil industry. Later, the head of the PDVSA, a former oil minister and dozens of other businessmen and officials were arrested.