May 1 (UPI) — Five U.S. citizens and a Venezuelan citizen who had been serving prison time in Venezuela have been released to house arrest, according to lawyers for the men and a former U.S. governor.
The group, collectively known as the Citgo 6 because they were executives of the U.S.-based Citgo refinery, was arrested in 2017 on corruption charges.
They are accused of money laundering and embezzlement involving a $4 billion Citgo scheme that was never completed, and have been viewed as negotiating pawns in the increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Venezuela.
“We do not know what prompted this ruling from the court, but we take it as a political gesture of goodwill towards the United States,” Poleo said.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has acted as a non-government negotiator in favor of the men’s release.
“We are relieved to hear today that Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira, known as the CITGO-6, have been released from prison and granted house arrest in Venezuela,” said a statement from his organization, the Richardson Center. “This is a positive and important step that should help secure their wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak in Venezuela.”
Family members of the men had previously said the men were held in inhumane conditions, sharing overcrowded basement cells in a military prison and suffering severe weight loss.
The men had previously been on house arrest but were imprisoned in February 2020.
Then-president Donald Trump‘s administration demanded their release in March 2020 and later sanctioned the Venezuelan judge and prosecutor in connection with the sentencing of the Citgo 6 the previous month.