Six American oil executives who were granted house arrest after being in a Venezuelan prison have been imprisoned again.
Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Gustavo Cardenas and Jose Pereira, employees of Houston-based Citgo, were hauled away by masked security agents while at a meeting in Caracas in November 2017. They had been lured to Venezula to attend a meeting at Citgo’s parent PDVSA.
The six were held in a Venezuelan prison for two years on corruption charges before being granted house arrest in December 2019.
The men, known as the “Citgo Six,” are awaiting trial. The corruption charges stem from a plan to refinance about $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company. The plan was never executed.
“We’ve learned that the Citgo six have been taken from house arrest by the regime’s intelligence agency, SEBIN,” Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela, told reporters on Thursday. “We believe they’re now detained at its Helicoide prison.”
The U.S. condemns “this cruel and indefensible action and demand that their long unjust detention come to an end and they be allowed to leave Venezuela,” he said.
Asked if the imprisonment was retaliation for politician Juan Guaido’s high-profile visit to Washington, where he was President Trump’s guest at the State of the Union, Abrams said: “The timing is suspicious, but I can’t speculate as to why it happened now.”
Abrams said the State Department learned on Wednesday that the six men had been moved. He said State Department officials heard about it from one of the men’s families, and then found out that the rest had also been moved. He said the conditions of their house arrest, “while terrible,” are better than what they’re enduring at the prison, where there are concerns about their diets and access to medicine.
Even before their move to the Caracas prison, “They were under constant surveillance,” Abrams said. “There were varying numbers of spies, of intelligence agents, constantly around their houses. It would not be unreasonable to assume they’re being bugged, eavesdropped on.”
He said it has been a “stressful situation” for the men and their families.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also released a statement Thursday about the men.
“The re-arrest of these innocent Americans shows the ruthlessness and desperation of the failed Maduro Regime,” Cornyn said in the statement. “I am heartbroken for their families, and I pledge to continue working with the Trump Administration, using every tool in our box, to free these innocent Americans from the crosshairs of the Maduro Regime’s instability.”
USA Today reporter Deirdre Shesgreen contributed to this report.
Alexandria Rodriguez covers breaking news and crime in South Texas. Support local news by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe