Family of jailed oil exec asks for Venezuelan leader's mercy

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This December 2015 family photo shows Jose Pereira, second left, one of the Houston-based Citgo oil executives convicted and ordered to prison in Venezuela, pictured with his wife Mervis, from left, and children, Sara, John, unidentified grandson and Joao, in Houston, Texas. Jose Pereira, 63, is one of the six American oil executives held for three years in Venezuela who were found guilty of corruption charges by a Venezuelan judge on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (Courtesy of John Pereira via AP)

CARACAS – The family of a Houston-based Citgo oil executive convicted and ordered to prison in Venezuela alongside five others appealed directly to President Nicolás Maduro on Friday for mercy.

In an open letter, relatives of José Pereira, 63, wrote to Maduro that he has a long list of health problems that need medical attention.

They ask for Maduro to free him — and the other five — so they can return home to their families in the United States.

“Our purpose for this letter is not to enter into legal tirades about the case,” the letter says. “We only want to implore to your humanitarian and compassionate side.”

The letter came a day after the Thanksgiving Day verdict finding all six guilty of corruption charges. They've been held for three years in Venezuela.

The so-called Citgo 6 are employees of Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. They had been lured to Venezuela in November 2017 for a business meeting and were arrested.

In addition to Pereira, the others convicted were Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, and Tomeu Vadell — all now U.S. citizens. The judge sentenced them to 8 years, 10 months.

Jose Pereira, a permanent U.S. resident, had been promoted to interim Citgo president shortly before the arrest. He received the longest sentence of 13 years.