Four years ago on October 2, two separate groups were detained by Venezuelan authorities on charges of stealing oil from state-owned oil company PDVSA. One group was 15 men who were charged with stealing some $13.7 million worth of crude oil, while another group was 30 men that were charged with stealing $5.9 million worth of crude oil.
The men have been jailed by Venezuela’s National Guard since their arrests, and remain there despite a third payment of $2.6 million by the Washington-based firm Black Hills Capital Inc. to Venezuela’s Ministry of Justice in a bid to secure their release. On October 1, Venezuelan prisons director Nicolas Silva told Reuters that the payment was “insufficient,” while Black Hills released the following statement saying they had given the payment because of a concern that some of the men would attempt to escape. “We recently received a preliminary payment from the government of Venezuela to secure the release of these individuals. However, this payment fell short of our new standard for prisoner repatriation and compensation and we do not intend to make a further payment to Venezuela,” Black Hills Capital CEO Mark Woollard said in a statement.
Black Hills Capital’s CEO Mark Woollard said, “This is totally unacceptable”.
Despite the payment, CNN Money reports that none of the men have been officially released and that the men’s cases remain subjudice. A source also told CNN that the men have been attacked by other inmates in the prison where they are being held.
The case has put pressure on the Trump administration to pay attention. Black Hills says that prior to the payment they had reached out to the National Security Council and State Department for help, but the efforts were not successful.
Regardless of any official response, the Black Hills case will likely fuel the impression that the United States will not remain absent from the intensifying conflict between the Trump administration and the Venezuelan government. According to a report last month, over a thousand U.S. citizens have evacuated the country.
“We are not involved in the affairs of Venezuelans here or there. We are an oil company,” said Woollard of Black Hills Capital in the statement.
Since Maduro won reelection in 2018, the United States has been vocal about the idea that he was stealing from the people of Venezuela, where most of the country’s oil exports originate. In addition to referring to Maduro as a “gangster-president,” as well as stating that their oil payments is proof that “we will never accept dictatorship,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded, “Hands off our oil!” In the midst of the oil sector purge, he said Venezuela’s oil industry was “being drained, its ports clogged with tainted oil, and its gas supplies disrupted” by Maduro’s “corruption.”