Venezuela has released six Citgo executives who were arrested and sent to jail on charges of corruption two years ago, Reuters reports, citing unnamed sources.
The prison sentences have apparently been replaced with house arrest, the source said.
The executives - all of them U.S. citizens, five of them with dual citizenship - were first arrested in 2017 and were only brought to court in the middle of 2019, after 18 months in prison. During that hearing, the presiding judge accepted the prosecution’s request for a trial on corruption charges without setting a date.
At the time of the arrest, U.S. authorities requested that its nationals be released, but Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro refused, saying
“These are people born in Venezuela, they’re Venezuelan and they’re going to be judged for being corrupt, thieving traitors.”
According to opposition sources, however, the arrests were not about corruption, but about infighting in the Communist Party as well as an attempt by the government to get its hands on profitable companies to patch up its budget, currently in tatters and with no great improvement prospects.
Reuters reports that U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and two senators had called on Maduro to release the Citgo executives on worry about their health, after Pence earlier this year met with the families of the arrested men who asked for the U.S. government’s help in the matter.
According to the sources, the six executives—including five former vice presidents of Citgo and a former president—will be banned from leaving Venezuela. No reasons for the release have been provided by Venezuelan authorities.
Citgo, in the meantime, has passed under the control of opposition leader Juan Guaidó with the help of Washington, which was the first government to recognize Guaidó as the legitimate, albeit interim, president of Venezuela, after earlier this year he declared himself interim president until new elections are called.