Six American oil executives who were thrown behind bars in Venezuela after being lured there under the pretext of a business meeting were convicted of corruption on Thursday and immediately sentenced to hard time in the country. The so-called Citgo 6—Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, and Jose Angel Pereira—were handed sentences of between 8 and 13 years, the Associated Press reports. The employees of the Houston-based refiner have already been held in the country for three years after being summoned for a supposed budget meeting at the headquarters of Venezuela’s state oil company in November 2017. There, they were swept off to jail and charged with embezzlement in a case that critics say completely lacks evidence.
The charges against them also kicked off a purge by President Nicolás Maduro at the country’s state oil company. “We, the family, are heartbroken to be separated even further from our loved ones,”Alirio Rafael Zambrano, the brother of two of the men, told the Associated Press late Thursday, describing the case against them as “judicial terrorism.” “We pray that the leaders of our nation step forward and continue to fight unceasingly for their freedom and human rights,” he said.