(Reuters) – A Venezuelan court sentenced six former executives of U.S. refiner Citgo to prison after finding them guilty of corruption charges on Thursday.
The officials were arrested in November 2017 after being called into a meeting at the Caracas office of state oil company PDVSA, which owns Citgo. They were accused of crimes such as embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy.
The former president of the company, Jose Pereira, was fined $2 million and sentenced to 13 years and seven months while the five others, former Citgo vice presidents Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Gustavo Cardenas, were sentenced to more than eight years.
The six denied wrongdoing and a lawyer on their defense team said they planned to appeal.
“The evidence for the crimes they are accused of was not there, it did not even mention the six of them,” said the lawyer, Maria Alejandra.
“The defense, we were ready for this decision because they are political prisoners.”
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A relative of one of the sentenced men said the families are in communication with U.S. officials.
Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido took control of Houston-based Citgo, Venezuela’s most profitable overseas asset, in 2019 after the United States recognized him as the country’s legitimate president.
Washington has called for the release of the group, which includes naturalized U.S. citizens.
President Nicolas Maduro retains control of most state functions and the Venezuelan operations of PDVSA, which are under U.S-imposed sanctions.
REUTERS: Reporting by Sarah Kinosian in Caracas and Marianna Paraga in Mexico City; Editing by Robert Birsel