Venezuela The Observer Four years later, imprisoned oil executives remain pawns in a US-Venezuela standoff Cristina Kirchner and Barack Obama are in no hurry to free the executives, after the US labelled Venezuela’s current president as a ‘dictator’ Five directors of US-based oil company PDVSA were arrested in November 2014 on charges of corruption, including its former chief and four of its foreign managers. Photograph: David Goldman/AP
Four years after the arrest of five executives from the US-based oil giant PDVSA, the case against them remains in dispute between the Venezuelan government and the US.
To date, none of them has been formally charged, the men remain in jail and US prosecutors say the drug trafficking charges made against them are all trumped up.
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Last week, the fifth of the accused, the former chief executive of state-run energy company PDVSA and six other PDVSA managers were jailed on corruption charges, deepening the political imbroglio surrounding President Nicolás Maduro’s troubled government.
The detentions followed the arrest of Carlos Pérez Rodríguez, the Venezuelan oil boss who worked for more than three decades in the construction of PDVSA, and other managers last November in an international operation in Miami. They are now awaiting extradition to Venezuela.
After the charges were filed, Venezuela’s new president, Nicolás Maduro, quickly dismissed them as part of an “economic war” aimed at plunging the country into chaos.
Dismissed vice-president Tareck El Aissami, a former interior minister, accused Miami’s many Venezuelan expats of “being allied with the government of another country to commit crimes against our people”.
So far, however, no one has been convicted and no evidence has been brought to the hearing, where seven senior opposition leaders were tried in 2014 for plotting a coup.
Meanwhile, PDVSA and the Venezuelan government have questioned the legality of the case against the executives at the US federal court in Miami. PDVSA, as an oil company rather than a private enterprise, “has no extradition or judicial authority” in the US, it says in a filing. “A group of prosecutors seeking to arrest and extradite the executives through an international operation has no rights or authority to do so.”
Even if the case against the executives had come before a US judge, it would not be a serious trial. Judges are notoriously quick to order executives into court for cash bail if it is feared they are facing the loss of their freedom.
But Julian Epstein, a US prosecutor who pursued the sanctions case against Caracas-based officials, including two Maduro brothers last year, said the case against PDVSA has “significantly more significant implications”.
“If the PDVSA executives were in effect held as hostages at the decision makers, this would be a significant attack on the US and the rule of law,” Epstein told the Guardian.
“If the executives are brought before a judge with no opportunity to present their cases, this would be an affront to due process,” Epstein said. “Then they would all need to be tried and convicted in an ‘expedited’ proceeding which means faster and less accurate judgment.”