Two Citgo oil executives detained for almost five years in Venezuela sue the company for more than 400 million dollars

Two Citgo oil executives detained for nearly five years in Venezuela are suing their former employer for more than $400 million, alleging that he conspired to lure them to the South American country under a false pretense and then abandoned them while they endured horrendous prison conditions for crimes they they committed. He didn’t commit.

Brothers Alirio and José Luis Zambrano were among six Citgo executives who traveled to Venezuela just before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent company, the Venezuelan oil giant known as PDVSA. Once there, masked security officers led them out of a conference room in Caracas.

Subsequently, a Venezuelan judge sentenced the so-called Citgo 6 to between 8 and 13 years in prison after a trial denounced by the United States State Department as being plagued by delays and irregularities. The charges: involvement in a never-executed debt financing deal that would have risked the Houston-based company being seized by Wall Street creditors.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in state district court in Houston comes as a federal court in Delaware oversees Citgo’s auction to satisfy nearly $21 billion in claims from creditors who haven’t paid since the U.S. stripped the government of President Nicolás Maduro from control of the company. .

The Zambranos’ complaint alleges that Citgo’s top oil executives ordered the men to travel to Venezuela for what they were told was a mandatory meeting, knowing there was a strong possibility they could be arrested. The heads of Citgo and PDVSA, all political heavyweights in the Maduro government, also allegedly provided confidential financial documents to military intelligence officials who facilitated the arrest of the men.

“Citgo knowingly and substantially aided and participated in his unlawful arrest,” the lawsuit alleges. “Citgo knew that the Zambranos were innocent from ‘minute one’ of these false charges, just as Citgo knew in the 2,556,000 minutes that followed.”

After the arrest, Citgo abandoned the families, ignoring their pleas for financial support to mount their defense, the lawsuit alleges.

The situation barely improved when a Citgo board appointed by the US-backed opposition took control of the company as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to overthrow Maduro and recognized then-president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. After numerous outreach attempts by their families, the imprisoned men, taking considerable personal risk, wrote a handwritten letter from prison asking Citgo leaders to release documents that could prove their innocence.

“This heartfelt call of desperation was shockingly ignored,” the 41-page complaint alleges.

Last year, the Zambranos’ former colleague and cellmate Tomeu Vadell filed a similar lawsuit against Citgo.

Citgo did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company’s lawyers have pushed for financial sanctions against Vadell and his family for making what they called “completely baseless” claims that Citgo intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the men.

“Citgo’s inaction knowing that these men were innocent and falsely accused says it all,” said Randy Sorrels, an attorney for the Zambrano family.

The Zambranos, American citizens and born in Venezuela, were freed in 2022 as part of a prisoner exchange for two nephews of Maduro’s wife who had been imprisoned in the United States on narcotics charges.

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