Five US citizens and a Venezuelan citizen spending time in a Caracas prison have been transferred to house arrest, according to two attorneys for the men and a former US governor who lobbied for their release.
Former executives of the CITGO refinery in the United States made up the “CITGO 6” party. They were charged with embezzlement in 2017 in connection with a never-implemented plan to refinance $4 billion in CITGO bonds by providing a 50% stake in the company as leverage. They were sentenced to between 8 and 13 years in prison last year.
The six were released from jail on Friday night in Caracas, according to attorneys Maria Alejandra Poleo and Jesus Loreto, and were on their way home.
On Friday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza retweeted a message describing the release as a “goodwill gesture” intended to honour the “agenda of the new White House.” CNN has reached out to a Venezuelan government spokesman for additional details.
Poleo, the attorney, told CNN that “we have been asking a revision of the jail order for a long time, and we welcome the fact the court decided to revert to house arrest today.” She added: “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.”
The Richardson Center, which is headed by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and has worked as a non-government negotiator to advocate for the men’s release, issued a statement saying: “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. This is a positive and important step that should help secure their wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak in Venezuela.”
Families of the community expressed their joy at the news and expressed gratitude to those who assisted in their liberation.
“We wish our loved one Tomeu were on a plane to the USA with unconditional freedom but are very grateful for this positive step made possible by Gov. Richardson and his team, Sec. Blinken & the State Department, the Vatican, and other allies around the world,” the family of Tomeu Vadell said in a statement.
The Zambrano family expressed delight at the news, saying that they had been worried about the men’s “health and safety amid crowded prison conditions and the risks associated with the Coronavirus.”
The “CITGO 6” men’s families, all of whom have deep roots in Texas and Louisiana, have previously said that the men were kept in inhumane conditions, including sharing overcrowded basement cells in a military counterintelligence prison and enduring extreme weight loss in a country ravaged by food shortages.