MIAMI (AP) – A court in Venezuela has upheld long prison sentences for six American oil executives detained in the South American country on corruption charges for more than four years.
Venezuela’s supreme court announced the ruling late on Friday, disappointing family members who had hoped the surprise decision last fall to hear the appeal, and a recent jailhouse visit by a top State Department official, signified Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government was looking to release the men as part of a gesture to engage the administration of United States (US) President Joe Biden in talks over US sanctions.
The court didn’t provide any information on its decision, and the order itself was not available. Venezuela’s judicial system is stacked with pro-Maduro officials who routinely issue decrees in accordance with the president’s viewpoints.
The men known as the Citgo 6 – for the Houston oil company where they worked – were lured to Caracas around Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA. Once there, heavily armed masked security officers stormed the conference room where they were gathered and hauled them away. Later they were charged with corruption in connection to a never-executed plan to refinance billions in bonds.
The executives appeared in November before a three-judge appeals panel in the same week as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention took up the case of Tomeu Vadell, one of the six detainees. Five of the men are dual Venezuelan-American nationals who had lived in the US for many years, while one, former Citgo president Jose Pereira, is a permanent US resident.
“We are deeply saddened with the continued violation of Tomeu’s human rights,” the Vadell family said in a statement.
The men are being held at Caracas’ Helicoide jail alongside some of Maduro’s top opponents.
The US has repeatedly called for their release and harshly criticised their detention and conviction as lacking all semblance of due process.