Venezuelan authorities have jailed three local DirecTV executives under an arrest warrant issued after the Dallas-based company abruptly cut off services to the South American country last month, citing US sanctions against the socialist government, the men’s lawyer said on Friday.
Carlos Villamizar, one of the three men, told reporters in his lawyer’s office before surrendering that he had no prior knowledge that the services were being ended and that he was innocent of any crimes.
“I hope there is justice in this country,” Villamizar, vice president of strategy for DirecTV, told reporters before surrendering himself.
Villamizar said he was “very, very surprised,” at the warrant issued against him and his former colleagues Hector Rivero and Rodolfo Carrano.
He was accompanied by lawyer Jesus Loreto, who said the other two managers had “voluntarily surrendered” to authorities and were being held at the intelligence service headquarters in Caracas, known as El Helicoide.
Former DirecTV employees expressed solidarity with the trio on social networks, with the hashtag #DIRECTVSomosTodos (We are DirecTV) trending on Twitter.
The arrest warrants were issued almost three weeks after AT&T announced on May 19 its “immediate” withdrawal from the pay-TV market in Venezuela, where it offered the DirecTV satellite platform.
Under the terms of its pay-TV licence granted by President Nicolas Maduro’s government, DirectTV was obliged to carry private news network Globovision and PDVSA TV.
AT&T joined a number of other US companies – General Motors, Kellogg and Kimberly-Clark – that have abandoned Venezuela due to shrinking sales, government threats and the risk of US sanctions.
The three arrested executives “did not participate in what happened, they did not know what was happening,” the lawyer said.
Three days after AT&T’s decision to close operations, Venezuela’s highest court ordered the seizure of the company’s facilities and equipment.
The board of directors at the company that provides the DirecTV service in Venezuela, Galaxy Entertainment, have also been barred from leaving the country.
DirectTV’s departure has left two million subscribers in limbo, with soccer fans deprived of the popular Futbol Total programme which was broadcast by DirecTV Sports for Latin America.
The administration of President Donald Trump has increased political pressure on Maduro in what it calls a “maximum-pressure” campaign aimed at ending the socialist leader’s rule, which it says has led the once-wealthy oil nation into ruin.