A Venezuelan judge recently found six oil executives guilty of corruption charges in a case that began in November 2017. Family members of the former Citgo executives were stunned by the verdict and vowed to continue fighting for the men’s release.
“It was pretty bizarre, like everything else in this case,” said Alexandra Zambrano-Forseth. “I don’t think any of us were expecting that decision yesterday after Thanksgiving.”
Forseth’s father, Alirio Zambrano, and her uncle are among the group of men dubbed the Citgo 6. Forseth formed the Citgo6 Coalition to educate the public on the case.
In November 2017 Zambrano, then the manager of Citgo’s Corpus Christi refinery, and the five other executives were called to a last-minute meeting in Venezuela. Citgo is owned by Petroleos de Venezuela or PDVSA.
At the end of that meeting, Zambrano and his colleagues were arrested.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has accused the men of everything from embezzlement to trying to refinance Citgo’s debt in a way unfavorable to the Venezuelan people.
Compounding matters, the US government has backed Maduro’s challenger, Juan Guaido.
The men have always maintained their innocence. The US government has continually called for the men’s release, as has Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
Forseth said throughout the trial the Venezuelan government produced no evidence of wrong-doing, only a random collection of documents.
“From everything we could tell across the various weeks, the documents were pretty irrelevant to the case,” said Forseth.
Forseth even provided KPRC 2 with a hand-written note that she said she had received from her father. In the letter, Zambrano appeared optimistic the trial would show none of the men did anything wrong.
“Today was another good day!” Zambrano wrote in the letter. “We progressed well today, six documents were reviewed! None of them had (a) direct relation to the case.”
Zambrano also wrote when he took the stand: “It went very well.”
Forseth said a single judge rendered verdict and punishment at the conclusion of a trial where access was tightly controlled.
The Associated Press reported it was not given permission to observe the hearings. The AP also reported Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice offered no comment on the verdict.
All but one of the men was sentenced to eight years in prison, according to AP. The other was sentenced to 13 years.
“They haven’t really let like anyone in; human rights groups, reporters or any kind,” said Forseth.
Forseth also questions the timing of the verdict, coming just after the US elections.
“This is a time where they’re going to start trying to test and move and see what they can do with these human chess pieces,” said Forseth.
Forseth said both Senator Cruz and Cornyn’s offices reached out to the family to let them know they will keep working to secure the men’s release.
Citgo officials also provide a statement:
Last night we read media reports that our colleagues have been convicted and sentenced to prison. While we do not have first-hand knowledge of these reported convictions, we are distressed to read about this outcome. We continue to pray for them and their families and hope for a resolution that will lead to their prompt release. We also hope that the Venezuelan authorities honor the request of the United States Government that they be released.