HOUSTON– One of Citgo’s oil executives, detained for nearly five years in Venezuela, sued his company for $100 million, alleging it conspired to detain him and then abandoned him and his family , as he languished in horrific prison conditions for a crime he committed. t commit.
Tomeu Vadell was one of six executives working for Houston-based Citgo when they were lured to Venezuela just before Thanksgiving in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of parent company, the Venezuelan oil giant known as name of PDVSA. Once there, they were carried from a Caracas conference room by masked security guards.
A Venezuelan judge later found the six leaders guilty of embezzlement and sentenced them to between eight and 13 years in prison in a trial marred by delays and irregularities.
In his lawsuit, Vadell’s attorneys allege that Citgo lured him and the other executives, who became known as Citgo 6, as part of a scheme to be used as “political pawns.”
The lawsuit alleges that although Citgo is based in the United States, it remains a wholly controlled subsidiary of Venezuelan-owned PDVSA. He says that relationship prompted Citgo to work with the state-run oil giant to arrest and wrongfully imprison him in retaliation for U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and also so the company could “draw on the favors” from the administration of Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela.
“We have suffered greatly and continue to suffer,” Vadell said in a statement about himself and his family. Vadell retired from Citgo in December.
US officials have accused Maduro of using the men as political bargaining chips to extract concessions from the United States.
One of the men was freed in March 2022. The other five, including Vadell, were freed in October as part of a prisoner exchange with Venezuela.
“All the while, Citgo sat on the sidelines, simply watching the dire consequences of its decision to sacrifice and abandon its loyal employee,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Illinois District Court. Houston State.
In a statement, Citgo denied Vadell’s allegations and pushed back against his claims that the company is inextricably linked to Venezuelan-owned PDVSA, saying the lawsuit “irresponsibly equates Citgo, a Houston-based U.S. company, with a regime authoritarian in Venezuela”.
“The Citgo 6 were our most senior leaders, and neither they nor Citgo, the company they led, are responsible for the arbitrary acts of the repressive Maduro regime. Citgo management has supported Mr. Vadell and his family financially and otherwise,” the company said.
Five of the men, including Vadell, are Venezuelan-American nationals who had lived in the United States for many years, while one, former Citgo chairman Jose Pereira, is a permanent US resident.
Vadell’s lawsuit alleges that at one point he was held in an ‘overcrowded, windowless basement dungeon cell with eight other men’, not allowed out for months at a stretch and “wasted away, losing over seventy pounds”.
Vadell accuses Citgo of refusing to pay his legal fees while on trial and sentence in Venezuela and of failing to pay his salary while he was arrested and imprisoned, leaving his family in financial difficulty.
“We are grateful to the US government for pulling Mr. Vadell out of this hellhole. It’s time Citgo was held accountable for conspiring to wrongfully imprison this US citizen,” said Megan Moore, one of his attorneys. ___ Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/juanlozano70.