(AP) — Six U.S. oil executives detained in Venezuela for four years on corruption charges have been granted a hearing before an appeals court, a rare decision by the judicial system in the South American country.
A judge this week scheduled for Tuesday the hearing for the men known as the Citgo 6, according to a court document shared with The Associated Press by a person familiar with the case. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke with AP on condition of anonymity.
The executives are to appear before a three-judge panel on the same week as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention takes up the case of Tomeu Vadell, one of the six Houston-based Citgo employees arrested in 2017.
Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira were taken away by masked security agents while at a meeting in Caracas just before Thanksgiving that year. They had been lured to Venezuela to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, state-run oil giant PDVSA.
The six men were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to between 8 and 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in the oil company’s bonds. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.” They all pleaded innocence.
The men have been granted house arrest twice since their detention.
The first time was in December 2019 and lasted two months, being they were re-jailed on the same day that then President Donald Trump welcomed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to the White House.
They were granted house arrest again last April, but that arrangement ended Oct. 16, the same day that a close ally of Maduro was extradited by the African nation of Cape Verde to the U.S. to face money laundering charges.
Venezuela’s judicial system is stacked with pro-Maduro officials who routinely issue decrees in accordance with the president’s viewpoints.