Venezuela Releases 10 US Hostages In Exchange For Maduro Ally

Venezuela has agreed to release 10 US hostages and extradite a fugitive billionaire in exchange for the release of Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro.

Six Americans who have been wrongfully detained in Venezuela – Eyvin Hernandez, Savoi Wright, Jerrel Kenemore, Joseph Cristella, Jason Saad, and Edgar Jose Marval Moreno – landed at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday night, CNN reports.

As part of a prisoner swap deal, Leonard Francis, who is also known as “Fat Leonard,” will be extradited from Venezuela to the United States. “He will be on a plane, hopefully very soon, on his way back to a federal detention facility,” senior Biden administration officials announced Wednesday.

In return, the U.S. Government will release Alex Saab, a close aide of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Saab was extradited to the U.S. in 2021, and is facing allegations of laundering money on behalf of the Maduro government.

“In order to make this exchange, the President had to make the extremely difficult decision to offer something that the Venezuelan counterparts have actively sought, and he made the decision to grant clemency to Alex Saab, who is pending trial for money laundering, and allow his return to Venezuela in what was essentially an exchange of 10 Americans and a fugitive from justice for one person returned to Venezuela,” a U.S. official said at a White House news conference Wednesday.

“This is the result of many, many months of negotiations, regular consultations with the President, an extensive amount of work involving our senior leadership involving Jake Sullivan and Jon Finer,” he added.

Leonard Francis was the mastermind behind a long-running conspiracy to bribe U.S. Navy officials and other federal employees from 2004 until his arrest in 2013.

As part of his guilty plea, Francis admitted that he required his Navy contacts to use their influence to benefit his ship support contracting company Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

While he was on house arrest awaiting sentencing, the Malaysian national cut off his ankle tracking bracelet and fled from his rented home in San Diego to Venezuela. Francis was arrested as he was about to board a plane to Florida, and has been detained since.

The White House also said the Venezuelan government had agreed to release 20 political prisoners, as well as opposition leader Roberto Abdul. The arrest warrants of three other Venezuelans will be suspended.

Despite the release of U.S. hostages by Venezuela, President Joe Biden sounded cautious regarding the Latin American country. “As we welcome home our fellow citizens, I must also remind all Americans of the long-standing warning against traveling to Venezuela. Americans should not travel there,” he said.

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