By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
Tomeu Vadell, one of the so-called “CITGO 6” who was detained in Venezuela for nearly five years, is suing the petroleum company that previously employed him for more than $100 million in damages, according to a lawsuit filed in Harris County, Texas, district court Tuesday.
The lawsuit accuses CITGO of using Vadell and the other five executives — Gustavo Cárdenas, Jose Pereira, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Zambrano and Jose Luis Zambrano — as “political pawns.” It also contends that the company “abandoned” the Vadell family.
“CITGO specifically lured Tomeu and the other CITGO executives of Venezuelan-descent to Venezuela as part of a coordinated scheme to maximize their use as political pawns,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit also charges that the company “made the unconscionable decision to abandon Tomeu and his family in their greatest hour of need” by refusing to help pay for Vadell’s legal fees and ending payment of his salary in 2018.
The lawsuit said the family is seeking damages for “past and future medical expenses; past and future physical pain and mental anguish; past and future physical impairment; past and future disfigurement; past lost wages and future lost wage-earning capacity; past and future loss of consortium; past and future for loss of companionship; past and future pecuniary loss; and attorneys’ fees.”
In a statement, CITGO said they “disagree with this lawsuit, which irresponsibly equates CITGO, an American company based in Houston, with an authoritarian regime in Venezuela.”
“The CITGO 6 were our senior-most executives, and neither they nor CITGO, the Company they led, are responsible for the arbitrary acts of (Nicolas) Maduro’s repressive regime,” the statement read. “CITGO’s leadership has supported Mr. Vadell and his family in significant financial and other ways.”
CITGO’s statement said they “greatly sympathize with Mr. Vadell for everything he and his family have been through” and they “welcomed Mr. Vadell home and are grateful he’s back with his family.”
CITGO is a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned PDVSA, which has been under control of a board appointed by the 2015-elected National Assembly since 2019. The assembly is recognized by the United States as the legitimate government of the South American country. At the time of Vadell and the others’ detainment, Maduro’s government still controlled the company.
The six executives were arrested after being summoned to Caracas for what they were told would be a business meeting right before Thanksgiving 2017, and spent close to five years detained in Venezuela. They were designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department.
One of the six, Cárdenas, was released in March 2022. The remaining five, including Vadell, were freed in a prisoner swap in October 2022 in exchange for the so-called “narco nephews” Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas.
That swap also brought home two other Americans who were designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department: Matthew Heath and Osman Khan.
The prisoner exchange came after months of back-and-forth between the US government, led by Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, and the Maduro regime, with which the US does not have formal diplomatic relations.
There are still at least four Americans currently detained there: Luke Denman, Airan Berry, Eyvin Hernandez, and Jerrel Kenemore. The latter two have been designated by the US State Department as wrongfully detained.
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CNN’s Ruben Correa contributed to this report.