The United States reached an agreement Wednesday with Venezuela to exchange a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro for 10 American prisoners.
A senior Biden administration official confirmed the exchange hours before the Americans were released.
According to reports, the freed Americans include those who were considered wrongfully detained, as well as four others.
Journalist Barak Ravid posted on X that Qatar has reportedly been mediating this deal for two years, according to his source.
Among the released is Malaysian businessman Leonard Francis, known as “Fat Leonard,” who assisted in one of the largest corruption schemes in the U.S. Navy’s 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 Biden official said in a briefing call on Wednesday.
“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 Biden official said.
In a public release statement, President Biden said the six detained Americans “have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence.”
The President said he was “grateful that their ordeal is finally over, and that these families are being made whole once more,” Biden said.
The Americans behind bars in Venezuela include two former Green Berets, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who tried to overthrow President Maduro in 2019. Other American prisoners include Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, and Joseph Cristella, who allegedly entered Venezuela illegally from Colombia.
In exchange for the American hostages, the U.S. government has agreed to release Maduro’s longtime ally, Colombian-born businessman Alex Saab.
Saab was held in the U.S. on charges of money laundering. As part of the new agreement, the Maduro regime will also release several Venezuelan political prisoners.
While many lawmakers and experts praised the news that Americans were released from Venezuela, some pointed out that the release of Alex Saab is dangerous to U.S. national security, given his role in providing support to the Maduro regime and other anti-American governments.
On X (Twitter), former U.S. State Department Iranian advisor under the Trump administration, Gabriel Noronha, pointed out that Saab helped Maduro’s relations with Turkey and Iran to “bust U.S. sanctions through swaps of gold for supplies.”
Following President Biden’s election in 2020, various anti-American regimes ranging from Iran, China, Venezuela, North Korea, and Russia have become more active on the international stage, upending years of American leadership and strength. Despite promises to the U.S. on election reforms, the Maduro regime continues to crack down on political dissidents.