Hopes of families for a quick release for six American oil executives—some with ties to Lake Charles—detained in Venezuela for three years over an alleged corruption scheme have evaporated, with a judge finding them all guilty last week and quickly sentencing them to prison.
Alirio Zambrano, 55, was arrested the weekend before Thanksgiving 2017 during an emergency business trip. He spent 15 years working at the Lake Charles refinery before moving to Corpus Christi. He is vice president and general manager of the refinery there; his brother, Jose Luis Zambrano, is vice president of shared services.
Also imprisoned are Tomeu Vadell, vice president of refining and former general manager of the Lake Charles refinery; Gustavo Cardenas, vice president of shareholder relations, government and public affairs; Jorge Toledo, vice president of supply and marketing; and Citgo’s President Jose Angel Pereira.
The Associated Press reports attorneys and relatives of the so-called Citgo 6 said the men were wrongly convicted, and the defense lawyers vowed to appeal.
Citgo refining is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. They had been lured to Venezuela three years ago for a business meeting and were arrested on corruption charges.
Their arrest launched a purge by President Nicolás Maduro’s government of PDVSA and at a time when relations between Caracas and Washington were crumbling as Venezuela plummeted into economic and social crisis.
Five of the men were sentenced to prison terms of 8 years and 10 months, while one of them received a 13-year sentence. Defense attorney Jesus Loreto said the five with lesser terms could be released on parole in a couple of years.
Their trial started four months ago and closing arguments took place last week. News media and rights groups were denied access to the hearings. The judge immediately announced her verdict.