Venezeula, US reach prisoner swap deal

4 months ago 72

As part of the agreement, US President Joe Biden agreed to grant clemency to Alex Saab, an ally of Nicolas Maduro.

Published On 20 Dec 2023

The United States has reached a deal to secure the release of 10 citizens from Venezuela, including six people who it said had been wrongfully detained, according to the White House.

As part of the agreement, US President Joe Biden agreed to grant clemency to Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and ally of President Nicolas Maduro who was in a Miami jail awaiting trial on a charge of money laundering.

Saab, who was arrested on a US warrant for money laundering in 2020 – was released from custody and returned to Venezuela on Wednesday, the Venezuelan government said.

US prosecutors have accused Saab of siphoning off $350m from Venezuela via the United States in a scheme that involved bribing Venezuelan government officials. He has denied the charge.

The White House said Venezeula had agreed to release at least 20 Venezuelan prisoners, including “political detainees”.

The prisoner swap talks were facilitated by Qatar, the White House said. Qatar’s chief negotiator met Maduro last week.

Six Venezuelan activists have already been freed, according to their lawyer and the wife of one of them. The longtime education campaigners were convicted on conspiracy charges this year and sentenced to 16 years but have proclaimed their innocence.

The White House has said in recent weeks that it expected to see progress on prisoner releases if it were to continue with sanctions relief for Caracas, which was unveiled in October in response to an agreement by the Venezuelan government to hold fair elections in 2024.

While relations between the US and Venezuela remain uneasy, the two nations have taken steps to ease tensions in recent months. In recent weeks, however, the White House had warned that it was considering an end to sanctions relief if more progress was not made on prisoner releases.

US citizens imprisoned in Venezuela include Luke Denman and Airan Berry, two former Green Berets who were involved in a botched effort to overthrow the Maduro government in 2020. They were sentenced to 20 years in prison.



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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