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8 Aug, 2020 10:52

US ex-commandos sentenced to 20 years in prison over failed attempt to depose Venezuela's Maduro

US ex-commandos sentenced to 20 years in prison over failed attempt to depose Venezuela's Maduro

Two former US military special force troopers, who were captured in a botched attempt to infiltrate Venezuela and allegedly capture President Nicolas Maduro, have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor announced the sentences handed to Luke Denman, 34 and Airan Berry, 41 for their roles in the failed operation, which allegedly aimed to kidnap the country’s elected leader and fly him to the US. According to Tarek William Saab, the pair – both employees of a US private military firm – admitted to crimes of conspiracy, arms trafficking and terrorism, and were each sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

Denman and Berr, both decorated former US military officers, were captured in May along with a group of fighters they had helped train after attempting to infiltrate Venezuela on boats from Colombian territory. Their plan was reportedly to kidnap President Maduro, seize control of an airport in Caracas and fly the Venezuelan leader to the US.

The so-called ‘Operation Gideon’ was prepared by the Florida-based security firm Silvercorp USA, though the fiasco earned it the nickname ‘Bay of Piglets’ in the media, a reference to the failed US-backed 1961 invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro forces.

The head of the company, Jordan Goudreau, published a contract that Silvercorp had signed with the US-backed 'interim president' Juan Guaido to conduct the incursion and topple the Venezuelan government. After the publication emerged, Guaido blasted the paper as false.

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Caracas seeks Goudreau's extradition as part of the prosecution of the case, while the US government is reportedly conducting a separate investigation against him for arms smuggling.

Both Guaido and the US government, which treats him as the legitimate president of Venezuela and has offered a $15 million bounty for Maduro's arrest, denied any involvement in the ill-fated operation. Washington has been helping Guaido financially and diplomatically since he announced his claim to the presidency in January 2019. His numerous attempts to seize power in Venezuela have thus far been unsuccessful.

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