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US and Venezuela announce prisoner swap deal

In exchange for the release of 10 Americans imprisoned in Venezuela, the United States freed a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — Colombian businessman Alex Saab.

The United States and Venezuela have reached a deal to free 10 American prisoners in exchange for the release of an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. US President Joe Biden said in a statement on Wednesday that the 10 Americans were "coming home."

"These individuals 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," President Joe Biden said in a statement. 

Separately, US officials said that Washington would free businessman Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman who was in a Miami jail awaiting trial on a charge of money laundering.

Venezuela is also releasing a group of opposition-linked political prisoners as part of the deal; initial reports varied on how many, but put the figure at roughly 20.

Venezuela celebrates return of Saab

Saab has already returned to Venezuela, the Venezuelan government said. It described Saab as "a victim" of "illegal detention" and characterized his release as a "symbol of victory" achieved through the country's "peaceful diplomacy." 

The swap deal will also result in the extradition of a fugitive defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis who is at the center of a massive Pentagon bribery scandal

Nicknamed "Fat Leonard," Francis fled home custody in San Diego in September 2022 and was arrested by Venezuelan police attempting to board a flight at the Simon Bolivar International Airport outside Caracas.

The deal represents the boldest attempt by the US government to improve relations with Venezuela. The largest release of American prisoners in Venezuelan history comes weeks after the Biden administration agreed to suspend some sanctions after Maduro and an opposition group pledged to work toward free and fair conditions for the 2024 presidential election.

Source: Dw

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