The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled sanctions on a Venezuelan judge and prosecutor for their roles in the prosecution and sentencing of six US oil executives, collectively known as the “CITGO 6.”
Judge Lorena Carolina Cornielles Ruiz presided over the trial and “ultimately sentenced each of the six US persons on charges of corruption with prison sentences between eight and thirteen years,” and prosecutor Ramon Antonio Torres Espinoza “was the primary prosecutor representing” the regime of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro during the Citgo 6 trial, according to a press release from the US Treasury Department.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that “these two officials played critical roles in the kangaroo court trials of each of the Citgo executives.”
“These proceedings were marred by a lack of fair trial guarantees and based on politically motivated charges, and media and human rights groups were denied access to the trials,” the top US diplomat said.
“These six men and their families have suffered long enough,” he said. “It is time for Maduro to release the Citgo 6 and let them be reunited with their families.”
“The unjust detention and sentencing of these six US persons further demonstrates how corruption and abuse of power are deeply embedded in Venezuela’s institutions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of the persons designated that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons are blocked and must be reported to” the Office of Foreign Assets Control, according to the Treasury Department.
The CITGO 6 — Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira — have been detained in Venezuela for more than three years, after being summoned to an emergency work meeting in November 2017 and arrested on corruption charges. They began having weekly trial hearings in August and were found guilty last month.
Gabriela Zambrano Hill, the daughter of Alirio Jose and niece of Jose Luis, told CNN that it felt good to see the sanctions imposed “because those people were directly involved in locking my dad away from me.”
“It really means a lot to have the US government take very strong measures to make it clear that our family is innocent and that people who just go around imprisoning innocent people don’t get away with it,” she said Wednesday.
“We really hope that this sends a clear message to the Maduro regime that the US is going to keep fighting, and that my family isn’t alone in this fight, and we’re going to keep putting the pressure on and putting the heat on until they come home,” she added.
Efforts to secure the men’s release have been unsuccessful. The Trump administration severed ties with Maduro and the US does not have a diplomatic presence on the ground. Two of the men — Cárdenas and Toledo — were released on house arrest in July after a humanitarian visit to Caracas by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and a team of non-government negotiators.
The family of Tomeu Vadell told CNN Wednesday that they “just want to be reunited with (their) loved one” and again called for his release.
“We’re sad to see this lose-lose situation continue for everyone involved,” the family said.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.