CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan police have seized executives of U.S. refiner Citgo who were under house arrest in the South American nation, two family members of the men said, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump met with opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Six top Citgo officials in November 2017 were arrested after being called into a meeting at the Caracas office of state oil company PDVSA, which owns Citgo. They were accused of crimes including embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy.
Washington for months has called for the release of the group, which includes naturalized U.S. citizens. A Venezuelan court in June ruled that they should stand trial, and in December they were granted house arrest.
Carlos Anez, stepson of one of the executives, said officers came to their homes on Wednesday night saying they were being taken to the Sebin intelligence service for medical exams. They have had no communication with them since.
“Police came to the apartment, told my father that they had to take him, to bring a change of clothes, they took his GPS off his ankle and took him away,” said Anez. “Their lawyers have not been able to speak with them.”
Alirio Zambrano, a brother of two of the jailed executives, wrote on Twitter, “My brothers Alirio Jose and Jose Luis were taken abruptly from their house arrest last night, we demand to know their whereabouts but more importantly their freedom!”
“At this time we know that they are in the Helicoide (Sebin headquarters), all together in the same cell, even though the house arrest has not been revoked by the court,” said Jesus Loreto, a lawyer in Venezuela representing Tomeu Vadell.
The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Citgo acknowledged the inquiry and promised a reply shortly when asked for comment.
The group includes former Citgo vice presidents Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell and Gustavo Cardenas, and former President Jose Pereira.
In 2019 a group of 13 of the men’s family members and lawyers wrote an open letter to the U.S. government asking the State Department and lawmakers to help win their release.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence then met with their family members last April.
Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido took control of Houston-based Citgo, the government’s most profitable overseas asset, earlier this year after Washington recognized him as the country’s legitimate president.
Although Guaido has the backing of the United States over 50 other countries, President Nicolas Maduro retains control of most state functions and the Venezuelan operations of PDVSA, which are under U.S-imposed sanctions.
Reporting by Sarah Kinosian, Marianna Parraga and Angus Berwick; Editing by Dan Grebler
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