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HomeworldUS and Venezuela swap prisoners, 'Fat Leonard' as tensions ease

US and Venezuela swap prisoners, 'Fat Leonard' as tensions ease

WASHINGTON: The United States released an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in exchange for 10 American detainees and a fugitive dubbed “Fat Leonard” in a sweeping prisoner swap deal between the rival governments on Wednesday (Dec 20).

US President Joe Biden made the “extremely difficult decision” to free Alex Saab, the onetime confidant of socialist leader Maduro, who is accused by the United States of money laundering for Caracas, US officials said.

Venezuela in return handed over a fugitive named Leonard Francis at the center of the US Navy’s worst-ever corruption scandal, released 20 Venezuelan political prisoners and released 10 US citizens.

Washington has been easing the pressure on the leftist Caracas government while it pushes for progress on democracy, agreeing in October to scale back oil and gas sanctions.

Biden – who faced criticism for a prisoner swap with Iran earlier this year –  defended the Venezuela deal and denied it could encourage other governments to detain US citizens. 

“We’re freeing Americans, people who are held illegally, and we made a deal with Venezuela that they’ll hold free elections,” he told reporters at the White House.

“So far they’ve maintained their requirements and that’s it.” 

The deal was brokered by the Gulf state of Qatar, US officials added.

Venezuela’s Maduro hailed Saab’s release as “a triumph of truth”, and the ex-prisoner’s arrival home was broadcast live on local television.

Saab, who spoke at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas with Maduro at his side, thanked the Venezuelan leader and said that “today the miracle of freedom, the miracle of justice, has become a reality”.

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