Four years ago, six executive officers of the Houston-based CITGO Petroleum Corporation, which is owned by Venezuela's state oil company, PDVSA, traveled to Venezuela for a CITGO business meeting “after being invited to Venezuela,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. During the meeting, “[m]asked security agents detained all six men and imprisoned them on specious charges without due process or access to a fair trial.”
Five of the men -- Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano and Tomeu Vadell -- are U.S. citizens. The sixth, Jose Pereira, is a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Known today as the Citgo 6, the men were charged with embezzlement pertaining to a never-realized proposal to refinance $4 billion worth of CITGO bonds. All six men maintain their innocence. In February 2020, the State Department determined the men met wrongful detention criteria under the Levinson Act and U.S. policy.
For nearly three years, the Citgo 6 were held without due process. During that time, hearing after hearing was scheduled and later canceled. Trials finally began in August of last year. The charges were politically motivated and the trials were not conducted publicly and lacked fair trial guarantees.
The presiding judge and the prosecutor were Maduro regime officials, and all six defendants were found guilty on November 26, 2020, despite specious charges and lacking evidence. The five U.S. citizens were each sentenced to eight years and 10 months in prison. And Jose Pereira, the lawful permanent resident, received a 13 year prison term.
The United State government has repeatedly urged Nicolas Maduro to free the Citgo 6, so they can come home.
“We continue to seek their unconditional return and the release of all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained overseas,” said State Department Spokesperson Price. “Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken will continue to relentlessly pursue the release of these individuals. To the Venezuelan authorities who have imprisoned them, we ask that they be allowed to return to the United States to reunite with their families.”