A Venezuelan judge on Thursday convicted six American former oil executives of corruption and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from eight to over 13 years.
Jose Pereira, who was the interim president of Houston-based Citgo at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to 13 years and 7 months of prison while the other five executives were sentenced to eight years and 10 months, a statement by Venezuela’s Supreme Court circulated by local media said.
The six U.S. citizens, known as the Citgo 6, were arrested on Nov 21, 2017.
Their sentencing comes less than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for their “unconditional release” and their return to the U.S.
In a statement released last Saturday, Pompeo said that the six men were “lured to Caracas for business meetings, wrongfully detained by masked security agents, and then thrown into one of Venezuela’s most dangerous prisons.”
The secretary of state also pledged to continue to work to secure their release.
The six executives were arrested on charges of corruption and embezzlement in a scheme to refinance company bonds.
The Caracas government says the deal provided unfavourable terms for the national oil giant PDVSA and involved kickbacks.
Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves and earns 95 per cent of its foreign currency from oil.
Venezuela’s oil production has plunged due to mismanagement, underinvestment and U.S. sanctions.
The shortages have led to Venezuela importing fuel from Iran, a move that has increased tensions with Washington.