Five US citizens and a permanent resident were sentenced on Thursday, November 26, to lengthy prison penalties of between eight to 13 years in jail plus million-dollar fines in the controversial case of Citgo.
The six were at one time employees of the Nicolas Maduro regime in the US, and it was a Maduro-controlled court that sentenced them. Citgo, a refining company and the subsidiary of state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in the United States, is controlled since 2019 by the National Assembly opposition-held legislative, whose President, Juan Guaido declared himself the interim president of Venezuela.
The US repeat plea that the six be released was not only not honored, but the case instead moved on to firm sentencing Thursday.
The press never had access to the proceedings, a violation of Venezuelan law, and, after three years, the six were sentenced by Supreme Court Judge Lorena Cornielles only minutes after the closing arguments.
The former President of Citgo, Jose Angel Pereira Ruimwyk, received the longest penalty, of 13 years. The other directors were sentencing to eight years and ten months each.
Pereira and the other Citgo six arrived in late November 2017 for what, they told, was a flash Citgo official business meeting. Police were waiting for them and arrested them inside the boardroom. Citgo is the oil refining company and marketer of gasoline, lubricants, and petrochemicals that Venezuela has in the United States.
Pereira was found guilty of “intentional embezzlement and conspiracy of an official with a contractor,” as well as the crime of association to commit a crime, the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) reported. He will also have to pay a fine of $2 million.
Likewise, the former directors Tomeu Vadell Recalde, Jorge Luis Toledo Kohury, Gustavo Adolfo Cardenas Cardona, Jose Luis Zambrano Colina, and Alirio Jose Zambrano Colina, all received a sentence of eight years and ten months for “conspiracy of an official with a contractor and association to commit a crime.”
The court also ruled that all of the convicted persons are disqualified “from the exercise of public service” and, therefore, may not run for elected office.
On November 21, 2017, the Attorney General of Venezuela, Tarek William Saab, informed about the detention of these citizens after they signed contracts that “compromised the national heritage and the future” of the PDVSA branch, “without the approval of the National Executive.”
The Maduro regime accused the Citgo six workers of signing an agreement to refinance $4 billion in Citgo debt with two companies, Frontier Group Management and Apolo Global Management. The scheme was never carried out, the AP reported.
By Carlos Camacho in Caracas with information from EFE.