Citgo executives' lives at risk in Venezuela, US says

Six former Citgo executives -- five of them dual US-Venezuela nationals and one a US resident -- were first arrested in Venezuela in November 2017 and accused of crimes including money laundering (AFP Photo/JIM WATSON)

Washington (AFP) - Six US-connected oil executives detained in Venezuela are in mortal danger from illness, the United States said Wednesday as it demanded their release.

The six former Citgo executives -- five of them dual US-Venezuela nationals and one a US resident -- were first arrested in November 2017 and accused of crimes including money laundering.

Roger Carstens, the US envoy for hostage affairs, said the United States was "extremely concerned" by new information on their health.

All six "are now in mortal danger, with several of them displaying COVID19-like symptoms and various other serious ailments," Carstens wrote on Twitter.

"We call for their immediate release and urgent access to the medical treatment they need," he said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza replied by posting a video on Twitter in which one of the six, Jose Angel Pereira, insisted that authorities were respecting their rights.

The United States "is trying to justify its aggression with lies on the six 'ex-Citgo' Venezuelans who are now being prosecuted by the Venezuelan judiciary," Arreaza said.

The "Citgo Six" deny the charges, and their supporters say that Venezuela's judiciary does the bidding of President Nicolas Maduro, who has been widely accused of corruption in the economically battered nation.

Citgo is the US subsidiary of state-run Venezuelan oil firm PDVSA, which has been under intense pressure as Washington tries to topple the leftist president.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March urged Maduro to release the six on humanitarian grounds, saying there was not "an ounce of evidence" brought against them.