Venezuela frees 2 Chevron employees arrested in April

MarketsAssociated Press

Venezuelan officials have released two Chevron employees who were arrested in April amid a national anti-corruption investigation.

The U.S. oil company said in a statement Wednesday that its two Venezuela-based employees were "in good health" and had been reunited with their families. It did not say if the employees were charged with any crimes.

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Chevron is one of the few multinational oil companies still working in Venezuela, where the socialist government has raised royalties and seized assets to increase its control of the industry. But mismanagement and corruption have led to a drastic fall in Venezuela's oil production. In response, the government launched an anti-corruption investigation that has led to the arrests of an estimated 80 oil workers since last year, including a former oil minister and a former president of Venezuela's national oil company.

Venezuelan officials have not commented on the reason for arresting the two Chevron employees or if they have been charged with any crimes.

In January, the government arrested several managers at Petro-Piar, which is a joint venture between Chevron and state-owned oil company PDVSA, and charged the executives with embezzlement and conspiracy tied to the illegal manipulation of production figures.

The two Chevron workers were detained April 17, in what was believed to be the first case involving an international oil company's direct employees.

Their release came just days after Venezuela freed Joshua Holt, a Utah man who had been held in prison for two years without a trial. The government let him go following negotiations with U.S. legislators.

As Venezuela's economy has spun out of control amid hyperinflation, oil has become an even more important financial crutch for President Nicolas Maduro's bankrupt socialist government, which has resorted to issuing IOUs to vendors in order to stockpile what little hard currency trickles in from oil exports.