U.S. vice president to meet families of Citgo workers detained in Venezuela

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump meets with Fabiana Rosales, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday will meet at the White House with family members of six executives from Citgo Petroleum jailed in Venezuela since 2017 and will call on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to free them, a White House official said on Monday.

The executives were arrested in Caracas during corporate meetings of Citgo, a U.S. energy refiner owned by state-run PDVSA and accused of embezzlement and money laundering.

“The vice president will reiterate the administration’s deep concern for the welfare and safety of all wrongfully detained American citizens and he will call on Maduro to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally,” the White House official said.

The family members will also meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the White House said.

The United States and most other Western countries have backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 reelection was illegitimate.

The United States slapped stiff sanctions on PDVSA in January aimed at cutting Maduro’s government off from oil revenues. Maduro has called Guaido a puppet of the United States.

President Donald Trump is considering extending the measures to impose sanctions on foreign companies that do business with Venezuela, his national security adviser John Bolton said on Friday.

Pence’s meeting with the Citgo families comes days before he travels to Houston to meet with Venezuelan exiles and community leaders. Pence is slated to give a speech about the Venezuela crisis on Friday at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Lisa Shumaker and G Crosse