Oil executives from the United States have been freed from jail and put under house arrest in Venezuela.

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According to attorneys for the men and a former U.S. governor, five U.S. citizens and a Venezuelan citizen who had been spending jail time in Venezuela have been transferred to house arrest.

The gang, known as the Citgo 6 because they were executives of the Citgo refinery in the United States, was arrested on corruption charges in 2017.

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.

According to attorneys Maria Alejandra Poleo and Jesus Loreto, the men were released from jail in Caracas on Friday and were on their way home.

“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 Governor Bill Richardson has served as a non-governmental negotiator in favour of the men’s release.

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“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 recently been put under house arrest, but they were arrested in February 2020.

The administration of then-President Donald Trump ordered their release in March 2020 and later sanctioned the Venezuelan judge and prosecutor in connection with the Citgo 6’s sentence the previous month.

 

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