In 2017, Venezuelan intelligence officers arrested the men upon arrival at what they believed was an emergency budget meeting in Caracas with officials from PDVSA, the state-owned company with a majority stake in Citgo.
A trial began in August. Following Thursday’s closing arguments, Judge Lorena Cornielles sentenced the men, according to the Associated Press.
The so-called “Citgo 6” were accused of embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy on charges stemming from a never-materialised proposal to refinance $4billion in Citgo bonds by offering up a 50 per cent stake in the company as collateral.
Five of the men – Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, and Tomeu Vadell – are US citizens. They each face eight to 10 years in prison. Jose Pereira, a permanent US resident, was sentenced to 13 years.
They have all pleaded innocence. A lawyer for their defense team told Reuters that the men plan to appeal.
Donald Trump’s administration imposed sweeping sanctions against the Houston-based company – majority owned by PDVSA, state-owned company under the Venezuelan government – as part of its aggressive campaign against Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, whose presidency has been disputed by US-backed leader Juan Guaido.
A Citgo spokesperson said that the company does not have “first-hand knowledge” of their conviction but is “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,” the statement said. "We also hope that the Venezuelan authorities honor the request of the United States Government that they be released."
The US government has repeatedly demanded that the men be released.
In a statement on 21 November, recognising the anniversary of their arrest, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the men and their families “have suffered long enough" and US officials would do the “utmost” to ensure their return to the US.
“It is time for Maduro to put politics aside and let these families be reunited,” Sec. Pompeo said.
“No one should doubt the president’s commitment to bringing home all US citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas.”