HOUSTON – The Venezuelan government released a group of American refinery managers from prison and under house arrest in Caracas on Friday, a possible sign that President Nicolás Maduro is looking to improve relations with the Biden government.
The six executives of Citgo Petroleum of Houston, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, have been charged with corruption since 2017 after they were ordered to attend a budget meeting in Venezuela. When they arrived, they were arrested.
The group – known as “Citgo 6” – was previously allowed to return from prison to private homes, only to be sent back to prison.
Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor who has tried to negotiate the release of the six, five of whom are naturalized American citizens and the other an American resident, said he viewed the transfer as a sign of progress.
“This is a positive and important step that would help ensure their well-being during the Covid-19 outbreak in Venezuela,” Richardson said in a statement.
The men were charged with money laundering and embezzlement in connection with a $ 4 billion Citgo deal that never went through. They are widely viewed as a bargaining chip as the relationship between the United States and Venezuela has deteriorated in recent years.
The last time the leaders were released from prison two years ago, they were swiftly returned to prison after then-President Donald J. Trump invited Juan Guaidó, a leading opposition leader, to the White House.
Mr Guaidó is officially recognized as President of Venezuela by the United States and other western countries, but the likelihood that he will ever take control of the government seems slim. Mr Maduro has held power with a firm grip and help from Cuba, Russia and China.
Citgo operates three large refineries, a large pipeline network and numerous gas stations in the United States. It is currently prevented from doing business with Venezuela due to US sanctions.