Maduro Releases DirecTV Executives as Venezuela Signal Returns

Venezuela released three DirecTV executives late Friday, hours after signal was restored in the country following AT&T Inc.’s decision to shut down its operations in May.

Hector Rivero, Carlos Villamizar and Rodolfo Carrano, who were accused of fraud, boycott and destabilizing the economy, were released from intelligence police headquarters in Caracas and “are all in their homes” their lawyer Jesus Loreto said via text message Saturday.

Loreto said the three executives were released on probation. The Caracas court ruling, dated July 13, prohibited them from leaving the country and ordered them to appear before court every 15 days.

The accusations came after AT&T announced its departure from the Latin American nation in May, saying it was caught between restrictions imposed via U.S. sanctions and the mandates of the Venezuelan government. U.S. officials said Nicolas Maduro’s regime insisted that DirecTV carry channels from sanctioned entities, prompting the departure.

On Friday, Chilean investment firm Scale Capital SA said it reached an agreement to acquire DirecTV’s operations in Venezuela and started restoring the signal immediately.

The service will operate within the existing DirecTV infrastructure, be free for the first 90 days and is subject to local approval, Scale Capital said in a statement. Former DirecTV head, Alexander Elorriaga, will take over as the new company director, according to the release.

Maduro Releases DirecTV Executives as Venezuela Signal Returns

On its website, Scale Capital says it “leads major turnarounds to deliver sustainable profitability.” Managing Partner Oliver Flogel is a former chief executive officer of Telefonica Chile.

Neither Scale Capital or AT&T immediately replied to requests for comment. Telecommunications regulator Conatel wrote on its Twitter account that Scale Capital had reestablished the DirecTV signal.

In May, Maduro reacted to DirecTV’s departure by using the Supreme Court to take over the company’s local assets and jailed the three executives. DirecTV was the leader in the pay-television market in Venezuela, with 45% of total users as of mid-2019, according to Conatel.

Maduro said on Friday that restoring the DirecTV signal strengthens the freedoms and communication options of Venezuelans.

“I hope the reconnection is made and that Venezuela continues to strengthen all its television systems,” Maduro said on state television.

Some of DirecTV’s 2 million Venezuelan clients, who after years of state censorship and economic decline, have very limited options to access news and entertainment, celebrated recovering the signal on social media. DirecTV appeared as the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter nationwide.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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