Six Citgo executives held in Venezuela released to house arrest

By Nick Wadhams and John Harney on 5/2/2021

(Bloomberg) — Six senior executives of Citgo Petroleum Corp. who have been detained by the Venezuelan government since 2017 were transferred from prison to house arrest, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person, who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive diplomatic issue, said Friday night that the Biden administration considered the release a gesture of good will by the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which is seeking better relations with the U.S.

The person added, however, that American officials don’t believe that the release, which was reported earlier by the Associated Press, is a prelude to allowing the men to leave Venezuela.

The executives, including Jose Pereira, then the company’s acting president, were arrested in Caracas in November 2017. They had been summoned to a meeting at the headquarters of Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Citgo’s parent company.

Pereira, who has permanent U.S. residency, along with American citizens Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Gustavo Cardenas were later convicted on corruption charges. They deny the accusations and have appealed their convictions. Then Vice President Mike Pence said in 2019 that they were being held illegally and “this regime should release all political prisoners.”

“The appeal request in a higher court has been left unanswered since we introduced it in December,” Diego Barboza, a lawyer for Toledo and Cardenas, said on Friday night. “The basis for the house arrest decision today is unknown as filings in courts show nothing new.”

Officials at Venezuela’s Information Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office as well as the U.S. State Department didn’t reply to requests for comment made on Friday night.

Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have moved to Colombia in recent years to escape hunger and chaos, and Maduro has made overtures to foreign investors as he attempts to revive his country’s shattered economy.

The U.S. government continues to officially recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president until there’s a free and fair election. Biden has referred to Maduro as a dictator and his administration has given no indication that it would let up on sanctions imposed under President Donald Trump.

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