The U.S. has reached an agreement with Venezuela to exchange a close ally of Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro for 10 American prisoners who were being detained in the country.
A senior Biden administration official confirmed the exchange on Wednesday, hours before the Americans were turned over. The released Americans include several who were considered wrongfully detained, as well as four who were not. Among the latter is Malaysian businessman Leonard Francis, known as “Fat Leonard,” who assisted in one of the largest corruption scandals in U.S. Navy history.
“We have reached an agreement to secure the release of six Americans who have been wrongfully detained in Venezuela, which means that all of the Americans detained in Venezuela and those four other Americans will soon be released. And we expect that they will be very soon on their way home to their families and friends and hope to be very soon in a position to share the news with their families,” the official said in a briefing call Wednesday morning.
“Leonard Francis, who is also known as Fat Leonard, will be extradited from Venezuela and will be on a plane hopefully very soon on his way back to a federal detention facility,” the official added.
President Biden, in a statement, said that the six wrongfully detained Americans “have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence.”
“I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over, and that these families are being made whole once more,” Biden said.
Maduro’s ally in the exchange is Colombian-born businessman Alex Saab, who was being held in the U.S. on charges of money laundering. The Maduro regime has also agreed to release nearly two dozen Venezuelan political prisoners as part of the deal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted at the deal earlier Wednesday.
“We hope to have some good news to share probably later today,” he told reporters when questioned. “We want to make sure that our fellow Americans are released. We are also focused on political prisoners in Venezuela and trying to ensure their release. So what I can say in this moment is this: We have a lot of work going on.”
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