U.S. Penalizes Venezuelan Officials Involved in Imprisoning 6 American Oil Executives

New York Times

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Wednesday on two Venezuelan officials for their roles in sending six American oil executives to prison on corruption charges.

From: New York Times

Those penalized by the United States government included a judge, Lorena Carolina Cornielles Ruiz, and a prosecutor, Ramon Antonio Torres Espinoza, for their involvement in a court case that resulted in six officials from the Houston-based oil company Citgo being sentenced to prison for eight to 13 years, the Treasury Department said.

American government officials said the executives — the so-called Citgo 6 — were “unjustly imprisoned” in Venezuela, and were made subject to an unfair trial that was criticized by the news media and human rights groups for its lack of transparency.

“The unjust detention and sentencing of these six U.S. persons further demonstrates how corruption and abuse of power are deeply embedded in Venezuela’s institutions,” the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said in a statement. “The United States remains committed to protecting its citizens and targeting those who contribute to the illegitimate Maduro regime’s usurpation of power in Venezuela.”

As a result of the sanctions, the United States will freeze any property and assets that Judge Cornielles and Mr. Torres have in the United States, the Treasury Department said, though it is unclear if either of them have any.

Representatives from Citgo declined to comment.

The Treasury Department’s actions are the latest turn in a long-running saga over the arrest of the six Citgo employees. The Houston company is owned by Venezuela’s state-controlled oil company, PDVSA.

In 2017, six men — Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira — were summoned to a last-minute business meeting in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and arrested shortly after arrival by armed and masked security guards.

The men were charged with embezzlement related to a deal that would have refinanced Citgo bonds worth as much as $4 billion, which the Venezuelan government said did not have approval from the appropriate authorities in President Nicolás Maduro’s administration. The proposal was never executed, and all six have said they are innocent.

The men’s families have told American news outlets that they were being held in inhumane conditions and have suffered severe weight loss during their detention. Five of the men are Venezuelan-Americans with roots in Texas and Louisiana. One is a permanent U.S. resident, according to news reports.