Venezuela Releases ‘Citgo 6’

(Chron.com, Sergio Chapa, 9.Dec.2019) — Six executives of Houston refiner Citgo are out of a Venezuelan prison, according to a late Monday report by Reuters.

After spending two years in prison on corruption charges, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira are said to have been released on house arrest.

Known as the “Citgo 6,” the executives were called to a meeting in Caracas at Citgo’s parent Petroleos de Venezuela SA in November 2017. Once in Venezuela, they were arrested and accused of various corruption charges.

With some of them naturalized U.S. citizens and their families living in Houston and Louisiana, their arrests became a source of tension between the United States and Venezuela.

While not directly confirming the report, Citgo did issue a statement Tuesday morning reacting to the news.

“After more than two long years, this development is welcome news, and an important step in the journey towards reuniting these men with their families,” the statement said. “As a company, Citgo will continue to pray for their safety and well-being as they return home, and supports the U.S. Government’s efforts to secure their full release.”

Citing health and welfare concerns, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and various other elected officials called on Venezuela to release them.

Under the conditions of their release, the six must remain under house arrest in Venezuela, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources.

Tensions between the United States and oil-rich Venezuela continue to widen.

Citing human rights concerns and a disputed presidential election, the Trump administration has levied a series of harsh sanctions against the South American nation and its strongman Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. administration, along with most democracies around the world, have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela.

Energy companies Chevron, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Weatherford International have been receiving waivers from the U.S. Tresury Department to keep an American presnce in the Venezuela’s oil fields, which are believed hold the largest reserves in the world.

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