CITGO 6 was found guilty and convicted in Venezuela

CITGO employees Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira were sentenced to 8 to 13 years in prison, according to the source.

Efforts to release the men will continue despite the conviction, according to the source.

The convictions underscore a year-long saga that began in November 2017 when the men received a call from the head of Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA inviting them to a last-minute budget meeting in Caracas.

When they arrived, armed and masked security guards arrested them on allegations of embezzlement arising from a never-carried out proposal to refinance CITGO bonds valued at around $ 4 billion by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral.

The families of “CITGO 6” – five of them American citizens and all with deep roots in Texas and Louisiana – say the men are being held in inhumane conditions, sharing overcrowded basement cells in a military counterintelligence prison, and suffering severe weight loss. plagued by food shortages.

However, the case has largely been sidelined as Venezuela continued to plunge into turmoil and ties between him and the US were torn apart by the Trump administration’s strong support for opposition leader Juan Guaidó in his battle against Nicolas Maduro.

Two of the men – Cárdenas and Toledo – were released from house arrest in July after a humanitarian visit by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and a team of nongovernmental negotiators in Caracas.

After more than two years in prison, the men began weekly trials in August.

Gabriela Zambrano Hill, daughter of Alirio Jose and niece of Jose Luis, described the hearings as “ridiculous” and expressed concern about the men’s possible exposure to Covid-19.

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Carlos Añez, Toledo’s stepson, had told CNN that he hoped the hearing would “find a favorable and correct solution” in the end.

In a statement earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for their “unconditional release” and return to the United States.

“These six Americans and their families have suffered long enough. It is time for Maduro to put politics aside and bring these families back together,” he said.

“Nobody should question the president’s obligation to bring home all US citizens who have been held hostage or improperly detained overseas.”

“The President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Taking, Roger Carstens, Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, and I will continue our mission to release the CITGO-6 and do our best to achieve that goal,” said Pompeo.

This story was updated with additional information on Thursday.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.

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