HOUSTON — The Venezuelan government released a group of American refinery executives from prison to house arrest in Caracas on Friday, in a possible sign that President Nicolás Maduro would like to improve relations with the Biden administration.
The six executives of Houston-based Citgo Petroleum, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company, have been held on corruption charges since 2017, after they were ordered to attend a budget meeting in Venezuela. When they arrived, they were arrested.
The group — known as the “Citgo 6” — was previously allowed to return to private homes from prison only to be sent back to prison.
Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who has been attempting to negotiate the release of the six — five of whom are naturalized American citizens and the other an American resident — said he viewed the transfer as a sign of progress.
“This is a positive and important step that would help secure their well-being during the Covid-19 outbreak in Venezuela,” Mr. Richardson said in a statement.
The men have been accused of money laundering and embezzlement involving a $4 billion Citgo deal that was never completed. They are generally viewed as negotiating pawns as the relationship between the United States and Venezuela has worsened in recent years.
When the executives were last released from prison two years ago, they were quickly returned to prison after then-President Donald J. Trump invited Juan Guaidó, a top opposition leader, to the White House.
Mr. Guaidó is formally recognized as the president of Venezuela by the United States and other Western countries, but the likelihood that he will ever take control of the government appears dim. Mr. Maduro has held on to power with a tight grip and aid from Cuba, Russia and China.
Citgo operates three major refineries, a major pipeline network and scores of gasoline stations around the United States. It is currently blocked from doing business with Venezuela under U.S. sanctions.