A Venezuelan court Thursday convicted six American oil executives of wide-ranging corruption offenses.
The six US nationals include the former president and former vice-presidents of Citgo refining company, a US-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil corporation Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). The offenses include criminal association, money laundering and willful embezzlement. Five of them were sentenced to 8 years and 10 months in prison, while one was given a 13 year and 7-month term.
The men were arrested for allegedly signing an unfavourable deal for the Venezuelan government. State prosecutors say they planned to refinance Citgo bonds using a 50 percent stake in the company as collateral. However, according to lawyers for the group, the plan was never contemplated, and no such deal was ever signed. The group pleaded innocent to all charges.
Venezuela and the US are currently embroiled in a long-running diplomatic crisis. Since 2019, the US has disputed the presidency of Nicolás Maduro, who has led Venezuela since the death of long-standing dictator Hugo Chávez. The US Department of Homeland Security is offering a $15 million reward for information leading to his arrest. The department cites evidence that Maduro facilitates and has profited off drug importation into the US. Despite this, with the backing of Russia and China, Maduro has maintained his grip on power throughout the pandemic.
In January 2019, the Trump administration placed financial restrictions on Citgo, which was blocked from engaging in transactions with the Venezuelan government, and all other PDVSA property and interests in the US were frozen. Venezuela’s oil industry accounts for around 95 percent of the nation’s export GDP.
Lawyers for the defense suggest that the decision was tainted by the broader geopolitical tension, and plan to appeal the decision.