Venezuela swapped seven American prisoners held in the South American country in exchange for two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro, who were imprisoned in the US for drug smuggling, according to a report.
The prisoner exchange, which includes five US oil executives who worked for Houston-based Citgo, is the biggest of the Biden presidency and involved months of secret negotiations, according to reports.
“We are relieved and gratified to be welcoming back to their families today seven Americans who had been wrongfully detained for too long in Venezuela,” said Joshua Geltzer, Deputy Homeland Security Adviser.
Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — were lured to Venezuela in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent, state-run-oil giant PDVSA and were arrested on corruption charges. The executives were sentenced to between eight and 13 years in 2020. Gustavo Cardenas, another member of the group of oil executives originally known as the Citgo Six, was freed in March.
The arrests took place amid a purge of the Venezuelan state oil company at a time when relations between the two countries were falling apart, and demonstrations were breaking out as Venezuela’s economy was spiraling out of control.
Also released was Matthew Heath, a former U.S. Marine corporal from Tennessee who was arrested in 2020 at a roadblock in Venezuela on what the State Department has called “specious” weapons charges. Heath tried to commit suicide in his cell in June, according to reports.
Another American, Osman Khan, who was arrested in January, was also released by the Maduro government. The US State Department said that all of the US prisoners were wrongfully detained in Venezuela.
The United States freed Franqui Flores and his cousin Efrain Campo, nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores. The cousins, both of them neophyte drug smugglers, were arrested in Haiti in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in 2015 and taken to New York to face trial for attempting to ship 800 kilos of cocaine on a plane from Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, where they planned to use their uncle’s private airplane hangar. The two were convicted a year later.
Both Flores and Campo were granted clemency by President Biden before their release Saturday.
Four other Americans are currently imprisoned in Venezuela, including two former Green Berets involved in an attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men who, like Khan, were detained for allegedly entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia.
With Post Wires
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