By Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS (Reuters) – A Venezuelan appeals court has upheld long prison terms on corruption charges for six former executives of oil refiner Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, the country’s top court said.

The Supreme Court of Justice did not offer details late on Friday about the ruling on the executives, who were sentenced in November 2020. The ninth court of appeals in capital Caracas “confirmed the sentence”, the court said in a statement.

The former executives, all naturalized U.S. citizens, were detained by Venezuelan authorities in 2017, accused of signing an unfavorable debt refinancing deal. Washington has repeatedly demanded their release.

Their lawyer, Maria Alejandra Poleo, told Reuters they had not yet been formally informed of the decision.

“We expected the decision, now the Citgo Six are being used as exchange tokens in the political issues of the United States and Venezuela,” Poleo said.

Former Citgo president Jose Pereira was sentenced to 13 years and seven months in jail and a $2 million fine, while the remaining five men face terms of eight years and 10 months.

The Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Alex Richardson)