Investigators Search Doctor’s Office, Probing Maradona Death

Argentine police searched the home and office of one of Diego Maradona’s doctors on Sunday, taking away medical records as part of investigations into the death of the 60-year-old soccer star that caused a wave of grief across the country.Neurologist Leopoldo Luque told reporters after the searches that he had given investigators all of the records of his treatment of Maradona, as well as computers, hard drives and cellphones.Weeping at times, he insisted he defended his treatment of the troubled soccer star, who died Wednesday of a heart attack following a Nov. 3 brain operation.”I know what I did. I know how I did it…. I am absolutely sure that what I did the best for Diego, the best I could.”Luque said he was not Maradona’s chief physician, but part of a medical team.Court investigators have been taking declarations from Maradona’s relatives, according to a statement from the San Isidro prosecutor’s office, which is overseeing a probe into the medical attention Maradona received prior to his death, which caused an enormous outpouring of emotion across Argentina and among soccer fans worldwide.Fans stand on a roof of a house along the route of the motorcade carrying the remains of football star Diego Maradona to the Jardin de Bellavista cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 26, 2020.Tens of thousands of weeping fans lined up to file past Maradona’s coffin, which lay in state at the presidential palace, before his burial on Thursday.Maradona had suffered a series of medical problems, some due to excesses of drugs and alcohol. He was reportedly near death in 2000 and 2004.Luque said he was a difficult patient and had kicked the doctor out of his house several times.”Diego did what he wanted,” Luque said. “Diego needed help. There was no way of getting through to him.” 

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Family of Jailed Oil Exec Asks for Venezuelan Leader’s Mercy

The family of a Houston-based Citgo oil executive convicted and ordered to prison in Venezuela alongside five others appealed directly to President Nicolás Maduro on Friday for mercy.In an open letter, relatives of José Pereira, 63, wrote to Maduro that Pereira has a long list of health problems that need medical attention.They ask for Maduro to free him — and the other five — so they can return home to their families in the United States.”Our purpose for this letter is not to enter into legal tirades about the case,” the letter says. “We only want to implore to your humanitarian and compassionate side.”The letter came a day after the Thanksgiving Day verdict finding all six guilty of corruption charges. They’ve been held for three years in Venezuela.In a statement Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The United States unequivocally condemns the wrongful convictions of the Citgo 6,” and that “these six individuals should be immediately returned to the United States.”The so-called Citgo 6 are employees of Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. They had been lured to Venezuela in November 2017 for a business meeting and were arrested.In addition to Pereira, the others convicted were Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, and Tomeu Vadell — all now U.S. citizens. The judge sentenced them to eight years, 10 months.They were also charged with financial crimes stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.” They all pleaded innocence.Jose Pereira, a permanent U.S. resident, had been promoted to interim Citgo president shortly before the arrest. He received the longest sentence of 13 years.”We ask solemnly and respectfully that you intercede in our case,” they asked Maduro. “So we can achieve freedom for these six men and allow them to return home to their loved ones.”Relatives say the men were wrongly convicted, and the defense lawyers vowed to appeal verdicts.Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice announced the verdicts and prison sentences, but officials in Maduro’s government have not commented on the trial’s outcome.

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700 Gang Members in Central America Arrested in US-assisted Actions

El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have brought criminal charges against more than 700 members of cross-border criminal organizations, primarily the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, in a U.S.-assisted effort, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.”The U.S. Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in Central America are committed to continued collaboration in locating and arresting gang members and associates engaged in transnational crimes,” said U.S. Attorney General William Barr, according to the statement.The charges resulted from a one-week coordinated law enforcement action under Operation Regional Shield, a DOJ-led initiative to combat transnational organized crime that brings together authorities from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.Tackling transnational human smuggling networks and gangs, including MS-13, is a priority for U.S. President Donald Trump.Prosecutors in El Salvador this week filed criminal charges against 1,152 members of organized crime groups in the country, primarily MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, the statement said.The national civil police captured 572 of the defendants on charges involving terrorism, murder, extortion, kidnapping, money laundering, human trafficking and human smuggling, among others.In Guatemala, authorities executed 80 search warrants, arrested 40 individuals and served 29 arrest warrants against people already in custody, all of whom are members of the 18th Street gang and MS-13, the DOJ said. Guatemalan authorities seized drugs and a firearm, and filed charges of extortion, illicit association, conspiracy to commit murder and extortive obstruction.In Honduras, the one-week joint operation resulted in the arrest of more than 75 MS-13 and 18th Street gang members and five police officers and the execution of more than 10 search warrants.  

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Venezuela Judge Convicts 6 American Oil Execs, Orders Prison

Six American oil executives held for three years in Venezuela were found guilty of corruption charges by a judge Thursday and immediately sentenced to prison, defense lawyers said, dashing hopes of a quick release that would send them home to their families in the United States.Some relatives had been bracing for the disheartening outcome, which came on the evening of Thanksgiving Day.Alirio Rafael Zambrano, brother to two of the men, said they were “undeniably innocent” and victims of “judicial terrorism.” No evidence in the case supports a guilty conviction, he said.”We, the family, are heartbroken to be separated even further from our loved ones,” Zambrano said. “We pray that the leaders of our nation step forward and continue to fight unceasingly for their freedom and human rights.”Attorney María Alejandra Poleo, who helped represent three of the men, said the case was “void of evidence.” “Of course, the defense will appeal the decision,” she said.The so-called Citgo 6 are employees of Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. They had been lured to Venezuela three years ago for a business meeting and were arrested on corruption charges.Their arrest launched a purge by President Nicolás Maduro’s government of PDVSA and at a time when relations between Caracas and Washington were crumbling as Venezuela plummeted into economic and social crisis.One gets 13-year sentenceFive of the men were sentenced to prison terms of 8 years and 10 months, while one of them received a 13-year sentence. Defense attorney Jesus Loreto said the five with lesser terms could be released on parole in a couple of years.Venezuelan officials did not immediately comment.One of the men, Tomeu Vadel, has said in a letter written in a Caracas jail and provided exclusively to The Associated Press before the verdict that he had hopes for a fair trial so he could walk free with his name cleared and go home to his family in the United States.Despite his circumstances, Vadell held out hope.”During the trial, the truth has proven undeniable,” Vadell said in the four-page hand-written letter. “It proves that I am innocent.””I’m now reaching an intersection where if justice is done, I will be able to rebuild my life and try to compensate my family for all the lost moments,” he added. “The light is intense — the hope is great — give me freedom.”Videll said it was especially painful to be separated during the Thanksgiving season from his wife, three adult children and a newborn grandson he has never held.”Before living this tragedy, these celebrations were very special times for our family,” Vadell wrote, saying he embraced the traditional American holiday after moving in 1999 from Caracas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a job with Citgo. “Now, they bring me a lot of sadness.”It’s the first time Vadell, or any of the so-called Citgo 6, had spoken publicly since being arrested and charged with in a purported big corruption scheme. He has been held at a feared Caracas jail called El Helicoide.The others convicted are Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, all now U.S. citizens. Jose Pereira, a permanent resident, received the longest sentence.All pleaded innocenceThey were also charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.”They all pleaded innocence.The men were summoned to the headquarters of PDVSA for what they were told was a budget meeting on Nov. 21, 2017. A corporate jet shuttled them to Caracas and they were told they would be home for Thanksgiving. Instead, military intelligence officers swarmed into the boardroom and hauled them off to jail.Their trial started four months ago and closing arguments took place Thursday. The judge immediately announced her verdict.The proceeding played out one day a week in a downtown Caracas court. Due to the pandemic, sessions were held in front of a bank of dormant elevators in a hallway, apparently to take advantage of air flowing through open windows.News media and rights groups were denied access to the hearings. There was no response to a letter addressed to Judge Lorena Cornielles seeking permission for The Associated Press to observe.The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said prior to the verdict in a statement to AP that investigators found “serious evidence” that corroborated financial crimes potentially damaging to the state-run company.”The Citgo case has developed normally during all the stages established by the Venezuelan criminal process,” the statement said.Loreto said his client appeared to have been caught up in a “geopolitical conflict” of which he was not a part. He said Vadell’s name never appeared on any of the documents prosecutors read into evidence.”There’s nothing that refers to Tomeu in any way — directly or indirectly,” the lawyer said. “This is the story of a good guy being held against his will for all the wrong reasons.”Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has negotiated the release of other Americans held by hostile governments, traveled to Caracas in July and met with Maduro.He didn’t win their freedom, but days later two of them — Cárdenas and Toledo — were freed from jail and put in house detention. Two weeks later, the long-delayed trial began.Richardson told AP that conversations with the Venezuelan government continue despite his meeting with Maduro being “a little stormy.” He said he he believes there is an opening tied to President-elect Joe Biden and a desire by Maduro to improve relations with Washington.”I think the Venezuelans have been straight with me, but more progress needs to be made,” Richardson said before the verdict. “My hope is to have something positive by Christmas.”It is not clear what approach Biden will take toward Maduro. Trump aggressively pressed to remove Maduro through sweeping financial sanctions and the U.S. Justice Department has indicted Maduro as a “narcoterrorist,” offering a $15 million reward for his arrest.‘The light of hope’Vadell’s letter steered clear of politics. He didn’t mention Maduro or speak about his jailers, though he did express concern about the “consequences of repercussions” of speaking out.With encouragement from his family, Vadell broke his silence, taking a risk relatives said was necessary.”I believe it’s more important that the light of hope illuminates us,” Vadell wrote. “May the light of hope put an end to the sadness of my family.”The five other men did not respond to invitations AP made through their lawyers to comment.Vadell’s daughter, Cristina Vadell, said in a phone interview from Lake Charles that her father isn’t the kind of person who seeks attention. Rather, he prefers to focus on work and his family.During his 35-year career with PDVSA and Citgo, Vadell ended up running a refinery in Lake Charles and then became vice president of refining. The letter attempts to expose this side of his life, she said.”I think he was willing to take some risks and open some hearts to allow him to come home,” she said. “I think he’s still wondering ‘What happened?’ He went to a work meeting and never came home.”

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Fans in Argentina Mourn Death of Diego Maradona

Football fans around the world are mourning the sudden death Wednesday of Diego Maradona, one of the sport’s greatest players.  In his home country of Argentina, fans gathered to pay tribute to Maradona, who died at age 60 of a heart attack.  Edgar Maciel filed this report.Camera: Edgar Maciel.

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Argentines Bid a Raucous Farewell to Maradona Amid Clashes 

Soccer superstar Diego Maradona was buried Thursday in a private ceremony attended by two dozen people — a stark contrast to earlier in the day when tens of thousands of weeping fans filed past his coffin for hours in an observance that mixed head-of-state-like honors with the chaos of a rowdy stadium.Only family members and close friends were permitted at Jardín Bella Vista cemetery for the final religious ceremony and burial of Maradona next to the graves of his parents, Dalma and Diego.Fans waving Argentine flags had gathered along roads as Maradona’s funeral car drove by under heavy security. Many tried to touch the vehicle whenever it was stopped by traffic.The earlier viewing at the Argentine presidential mansion was halted shortly before 6 p.m., 12 hours after it started, as Maradona’s family wished. The body of the Argentine icon was taken away for burial, frustrating many who were waiting to pay their respects and causing new tensions at the gates of the cemetery.Fans, some draped in the national flag, sang soccer anthems as they formed a line that stretched more than 20 blocks from the Plaza de Mayo, where Argentines gathered to celebrate the Maradona-led triumph in the 1986 World Cup.A sign set up by mourning fans reads in Spanish, “Thank You God for Everything,” as police block their access to the Jardin de Bellavista cemetery during the burial of Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 26, 2020.But with the time for viewing the coffin at the presidential palace drawing short, police moved to cut off the crowd, enraging fans who hurled rocks and other objects at officers, who responded with rubber bullets.The crowd overwhelmed organizers and the violence resulted in injuries and arrests, which led Maradona’s family to end the public visitation. The casket was placed in a car that carried the former footballer’s name on a paperboard by the window.Desperate to say goodbye, Maradona’s fans climbed on the fences of the presidential mansion as if they were in a soccer stadium, while firefighters worked to clear the ground.’Diego lives in the people'”Diego is not dead, Diego lives in the people,” people chanted as the coffin was taken to a cemetery outside Buenos Aires. The motorcade, accompanied by police, was followed on a local highway by dozens of honking cars and motorcycles.Hundreds of fans blocked entry to the cemetery before the arrival of Maradona’s casket, dancing and chanting as police moved in to open a way. The crowd continued making noise after the final ceremony began.Maradona died Wednesday of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he had been recovering from a brain operation November 3.Mourners embrace as they wait to see football star Diego Maradona lying in state outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 26, 2020.While the viewing bore the hallmarks of a state funeral, with Maradona’s casket laid out in the presidential palace, the atmosphere often was that of a soccer stadium — chanting, singing, pushing and the occasional whiff of alcohol.Fans wept and blew kisses as they passed the wooden coffin, some striking their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go, Diego.”It was draped with the Argentine flag and shirts bearing his famed No. 10 from the national team and the Boca Juniors club, with other jerseys tossed around it by passing admirers.Family, friends firstOpen visitation began at 6:15 a.m. after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His former wife, Claudia Villafañe, came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verónica Ojeda, also an ex-wife, with their son, Dieguito Fernando.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
Relatives and friends bury the remains of Diego Maradona while police keep fans outside the Jardin de Bellavista cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 26, 2020.In tears, Fernández also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organization Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, whose members wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and other rights groups.The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks.A huge mural of Maradona’s face was painted on the tiles that cover the Plaza de Mayo, near the Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.”He made Argentina be recognized all over the world. Who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” de Lima told The Associated Press. “Diego is the people. … Today the shirts, the political flags don’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy.”Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 9 MB480p | 12 MB540p | 17 MB720p | 39 MB1080p | 71 MBOriginal | 187 MB Embed” />Copy Download Audio1986 march to gloryMaradona’s soccer genius, personal struggles and plain-spoken personality resonated deeply with Argentines.He led an underdog team to glory in the 1986 World Cup, winning the title after scoring two astonishing goals in a semifinal match against England, thrilling a country that felt humiliated by its loss against the British in the recent Falklands war and that was still recovering from the brutal military dictatorship.Many Argentines deeply sympathized with the struggles of a man who rose from poverty to fame and wealth and fell into abuse of drug, drink and food. He remained idolized in the soccer-mad nation as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”Many of those in line to enter the Casa Rosada wore masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they struggled to keep social distancing.Social worker Rosa Noemí Monje, 63, said she and others overseeing health protocols understood the emotion of the moment.”It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitizer and face masks,” she said. Monje also paid her last tribute to Maradona.”I told him: To victory always, Diego,” Monje said as she wept.

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