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Venezuelan judge convicts six U.S. oil executives of corruption and orders prison

Caracas, Venezuela-Family hopes for the prompt release of six U.S. oil executives detained in Venezuela for three years on suspicion of corruption have disappeared, and judges have found them all guilty and immediately sent them to jail. ..

So-called Citgo 6 lawyers and relatives said the man was mistakenly convicted, and the defense lawyer vowed to appeal Thursday’s verdict.

Arilio Rafael Zambrano, whose two brothers were among the defendants, said they were “unquestionably innocent” and victims of “judicial terrorism.” He said the evidence presented in the case did not support the conviction.

“Our family is worried about getting further away from our loved ones,” Zambrano said on the phone from New Jersey. “We pray that the leaders of our country will move forward and continue to fight for their freedom and human rights.”

Maria Alejandra Poleo, an attorney who helped represent the three men, said the case was “no evidence.” “Of course, the defense will appeal the decision,” she said.

The so-called Citgo 6 is an employee of the Houston-based Citgo refinery owned by Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA. They were seduced by Venezuela for business talks three years ago and arrested on suspicion of corruption.

Their arrest initiated a purge by President Nicolas Maduro’s PDVSA government, and Venezuela’s economic and social crisis broke the relationship between Caracas and Washington.

Five of the men were sentenced to eight years and ten months in prison, and one of them was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Defendant lawyer Jesus Loreto said the five short-term lawyers could be released on parole within a few years.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court issued a verdict and imprisonment, but did not provide any other comment on the outcome of the trial.

Related: Fort Bend County officials are demanding the release of six Citgo executives imprisoned in Venezuela

One of the men, Tomeu Vadel, was written in a prison in Caracas and in a letter exclusively provided to the Associated Press before the sentence, he cleared his name and walked freely, his family. He said he wanted a fair trial so that he could return to. In the United States.

In a post-judgment statement, Vadel’s family said, “It’s sad that justice didn’t spread today, but the truth freed our loved one, Tomeu, and soon our home. I hope I can return to. “
Despite his situation, Vadel expressed hope.

“During the trial, the truth proved undeniable,” Vadel said in a four-page handwritten letter. “It proves that I am innocent.”

“I’m now at a crossroads where, if justice is done, I can rebuild my life and try to compensate my family for all the lost moments,” he added. “The light is intense-hope is wonderful-give me freedom.”

This was the first time that either Vadell, or the so-called Citgo 6, had been publicly spoken since he was arrested and charged with a major corruption program. He is detained in the feared Caracas Prison called El Helicoid.

Other convicted people are Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Brothers Jose Luis Zambrano, Brothers Arilio Zambrano, all now US citizens. Permanent resident Jose Pereira received the longest sentence.

They were also charged with embezzlement due to an unexecuted proposal to refinance approximately $ 4 billion of Citgo bonds by providing 50% of the company’s shares as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.”

They all complained of innocence.

The man was summoned to PDVSA headquarters because he was told that it was a budget meeting on November 21, 2017. Business jets were told to shuttle them to Caracas and go home for Thanksgiving. Instead, military intelligence agents flocked to the conference room and carried them to prison.

Their trial began four months ago and closing arguments took place on Thursday. The judge immediately announced her verdict.

The procedure took place one day a week in a court in downtown Caracas. Due to the pandemic, the session was held in front of a row of dormant elevators in the hallway. It seems to utilize the air flowing through the open windows.

News media and rights groups have been denied access to the hearing. There was no response to a letter to Judge Lorena Corniels seeking permission for AP to monitor.

The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office in Venezuela said in a statement to the AP prior to the verdict that investigators had found “significant evidence” supporting financial crimes that could harm state-owned enterprises.

“The Citgo case has progressed successfully at all stages established by the Venezuelan criminal procedure,” the statement said.

See also: Former Venezuelan Citgo official charged with money laundering and bribery in Houston

Loreto said his client appeared to have been involved in a “geopolitical conflict” in which he did not participate. He said Vadel’s name did not appear in any of the documents the prosecutor read as evidence.

“There is nothing to mention Tomeu directly or indirectly,” the lawyer said. “This is the story of a good man who is detained against his will for all wrong reasons.”

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who negotiated the release of other Americans held by a hostile government, traveled to Caracas in July to meet Maduro.

He did not win their freedom, but a few days later two of them (Cardenas and Toledo) were released from prison and detained at home. Two weeks later, the postponed trial began.

Richardson told AP that the conversation with the Venezuelan government continued, even though the meeting with Maduro was “a little stormy.” He said he believed in the opening associated with Joe Biden in the presidential election and the desire to improve Maduro’s relationship with Washington.

“I think the Venezuelans were honest with me, but we need to make more progress,” Richardson said before the verdict. “My hope is to do something positive by Christmas.”

It is not clear what Biden will take to Maduro. Trump has aggressively pressured Maduro to be eliminated through drastic economic sanctions, and the U.S. Department of Justice has charged Maduro as a “narco terrorist” and provided $ 15 million in compensation for his arrest. ..

Vadel’s letter avoided politics. He did not mention Maduro or talk about his prison, but he expressed concern about the “effects” of his remarks.

With encouragement from his family, Vadel broke his silence and risked the need for relatives.

Related: Citgo executives were called to a last-minute meeting in Venezuela before being imprisoned, the wife says.

“I believe it is more important for the light of hope to illuminate us,” writes Vadel. “May the light of hope put an end to the sadness of my family.”

The other five men did not accept the invitation to comment made by AP through a lawyer.

Vadel’s daughter, Christina Vadel, said in a telephone interview from Lake Charles, Louisiana that her father wasn’t the one to get the attention. Rather, he prefers to focus on his work and his family.

During his 35-year career at PDVSA and Citgo, Vadell eventually ran a refinery at Lake Charles and later became vice president of the refinery. She said the letter was about to expose this side of his life.

“I think he took the risk and opened his heart to go home,” she said. “I think he’s still wondering what happened. He went to a work meeting and never went home.”

Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP

The Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman of Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 AP communication. all rights reserved.



Venezuelan judge convicts six U.S. oil executives of corruption and orders prison

Source link Venezuelan judge convicts six U.S. oil executives of corruption and orders prison

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