By The Associated Press
Published Nov. 26, 2020 Updated Nov. 27, 2020, 5:47 a.m. ET
CARACAS, Venezuela — A Venezuelan judge on Thursday found six American oil executives guilty of a wide-ranging corruption scheme and immediately sentenced them to prison.
The so-called Citgo 6 — employees of the Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA — had been lured to Venezuela three years ago for a business meeting and arrested.
The men — Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira — each face more than eight years in prison. Five are Venezuelan-Americans with roots in Texas and Louisiana, and one is a permanent U.S. resident, according to media reports.
Five of the men were sentenced to prison terms of eight years and 10 months, while one received a 13-year sentence. A defense lawyer, Jesus Loreto, said the five with lesser terms could be released on parole in a couple of years.
Relatives of the men say they had been wrongly convicted, and defense lawyers vowed to appeal Thursday’s verdicts. Alirio Rafael Zambrano, whose two brothers are among the defendants, said that they were “undeniably innocent” and victims of “judicial terrorism.” No evidence presented in the case supports a guilty conviction, he said.
“We, the family, are heartbroken to be separated even further from our loved ones,” Mr. Zambrano said by phone from New Jersey. “We pray that the leaders of our nation step forward and continue to fight unceasingly for their freedom and human rights.”