Corpus Christi Citgo employee Alirio Zambrano thought nothing of being summoned to Caracas, Venezuela, for a meeting in late November 2017.
After all, Caracas is home to Citgo’s parent company, Petroleos De Venezuela, S.A. (“PDVSA”), Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and at the time, Zambrano was VP and Operations Manager at Citgo’s Corpus Christi refinery.
But, the meeting was a trap – Zambrano and five other Citgo executives from other Citgo properties in the U.S. were arrested and charged with corruption, embezzlement and treason.
Almost 450 days later, the men – five who are U.S. citizens, including Zambrano, — remain jailed somewhere in a Caracas suburb, suffering through inhumane conditions without benefit of even a preliminary hearing.
“It didn’t make sense, and, honestly, it’s been a blur ever since and it’s been a blur for all the six families,” says Zambrano’s oldest daughter, Alexandra Forseth, herself a chemical engineer in Houston.
Corpus Christi defense attorney Chris Gale says, based on what he is seeing and reading about the situation, the men’s legal rights are being trampled.
“I’m sort of appalled that any system, and/or attorneys, would allow that to continue.”
In an exclusive interview with 6 Investigates that aired on Sunday night (Report attached, below) Forseth, speaking on behalf of father, her two sisters and their mother (who also is a Citgo employee) says it’s time for the men to come home.
She says visitors return to the U.S. reporting the men are malnourished, face long periods of almost total isolation from others and go days – if not weeks – without seeing the sun.
“It has been 14 fourteen months … and it’s enough,” she says. She says her father’s 6-foot frame is down to about 135 pounds but can only estimate it, as so few outsiders are allowed in to see the men.
According to reports, the other men jailed with Zambrano are:
His brother, Jose Luis Zambrano.
Jose Angel Pereira
To pass the time, they make trinkets and other mementos to place in the palms of those who get in to see them, hoping to get them into their families’ hands. Forseth carries a small bracelet made by her Dad from plastic refuse, bearing his nickname for her: “Zandy.”
She says the men reportedly do a lot of praying, using rosaries made from trash bags, and, they work diligently to stay as healthy – and clean – as possible.
Back in the states, their families have created a Twitter feed to provide regular updates and are beginning to speak out, as word of Venezuela’s political unrest, spreads.
They say the men are being used as scapegoats by a corrupt regime headed by President Nicolas Maduro.
“This ‘investigation’ was started in Venezuela on Monday Nov. 20, 2017, and closed the same day. Their arrest warrants were issued Nov. 21,” Forseth tells 6 Investigates. “The men … have seen absolutely nothing that indicates any shred of evidence against them.”
Gale says the men are being less like criminal defendants than political prisoners.
“How do you defend yourself when you don’t know what you’re charged with … I’ve never heard of an investigation occurring in one day and arrest warrants being issued. That tells me, there’s something besides actual facts and it’s just some sort of political endeavor.”
6 Investigates has made repeated requests to Citgo for information or interviews to discuss what the company is doing to lobby for the men’s release and what they’re doing to assist the families. They’ve ignored each one.
Forseth tells us they’re struggling to keep up as legal bills from their Venezuelan lawyers mount. Meanwhile, Citgo suspended their pay, last May.
“(Just an) undated letter in the mail with no explanation – (it) just says ‘your pay will be suspended’.”