Venezuela Frees 7 Imprisoned Americans; U.S. Frees 2 Prisoners

Washington (AP) — Venezuela Seven Americans detained in the South American country were released Saturday in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, who had been jailed in the United States for years on drug smuggling charges, a senior U.S. official said.

The exchange of Americans, including five oil executives imprisoned for nearly five years, is the largest ever deal of detained citizens in a Biden administration.

“We are relieved and relieved to welcome seven Americans wrongfully detained for too long to their families today. Venezuela,” said Joshua Geltzer, deputy advisor to the Department of Homeland Security.

It amounts to a rare gesture of goodwill from Maduro, as the socialist leader looks to rebuild ties with the United States after defeating most of his domestic rivals. The deal comes after months of secret diplomacy between top Washington hostage negotiators and other U.S. officials — secret talks with a major oil producer turned into secrecy after sanctions on Russia weighed on global energy prices more urgent.

The freed included five Houston-based Citgo employees — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — who were lured to Venezuela Just before Thanksgiving 2017, attended a meeting at the headquarters of the company’s parent company, state oil giant PDVSA. Once there, they were dragged away by masked security officers who broke into a conference room in Caracas.

Also freed is former U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Matthew Heath from Tennessee, who in 2020 Venezuela On what the State Department called “paradoxical” weapons charges, as well as Florida man Osman Khan, who was arrested in January.

US frees ‘First Combatant’ Celia Flores’ Frankie Flores and nephew of his cousin Evran Campo, as Maduro says his wife . The men were arrested in a 2015 raid by the Haitian Drug Enforcement Agency and were immediately taken to New York for trial.

The following year, they were convicted in a high-profile case that brought a harsh scrutiny of the highest-level drug trafficking charges against the Maduro government in the United States.

Both received clemency from President Joe Biden before their release.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to do more to hold the roughly 60 Americans it believes are being held hostage abroad or wrongly detained by hostile foreign governments. While much of the focus has been on Russia, the United States has so far failed to secure the release of WNBA star Britney Greener and another American, Paul Whelan, Venezuela Has been holding the largest American suspicion of being used as a bargaining chip.

At least four more Americans remain in custody Venezuelaincluding two former Green Berets who made a rash attempt to oust Maduro in 2019, and two other men who, like Khan, have been detained on suspicion of entering the country illegally from neighboring Colombia.

A Biden administration has not released another prisoner long hunted by Maduro: Alex Saab, an insider businessman who Venezuela Think diplomats and U.S. prosecutors as promoters of corrupt regimes. Sabo, who opposed extradition from Cape Verde, was arrested last year during a stopover en route to Iran and is now awaiting trial in Miami federal court on charges of misappropriating millions of state contracts.

The oil executives were convicted of embezzlement last year in a trial marred by delays and irregularities. They were sentenced to eight to 13 years in prison for a never-executed proposal to refinance billions in oil company bonds.Maduro accused them of “treason” at the time and VenezuelaEarlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld their long-standing judgment. All have pleaded not guilty, and the State Department believes they — along with the two other Americans released Saturday — were wrongfully detained.

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