A Venezuelan court has sentenced two former US special forces soldiers to 20 years in prison for their part in a failed beach attack aimed at overthrowing President Nicolas Maduro, the country’s Attorney-General said.
- Former US soldiers Luke Denman and Airan Berry have admitted to the operation against Venezuela’s Maduro government, according to the country’s chief prosecutor
- The pair’s arrest has been widely publicised in the oil-rich country due to long-held claims that the United States is set on overthrowing the current government
- The failed operation in May resulted in the deaths of eight rebel soldiers and 66 others being jailed
Former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry admitted to taking part in the May 4 operation organised by a third former US soldier who remains in the United States, according to Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab, who announced the sentence on Twitter.
“They admitted their responsibility for the facts,” Mr Saab wrote in Spanish.
Mr Saab added that the cases against dozens of other defendants linked to the failed coup will continue. He did not offer details.
The so-called “Operation Gideon” was launched from makeshift training camps in neighbouring Colombia and left at least eight rebel soldiers dead while a total of 66 were jailed.
The third former Green Beret, Jordan Goudreau, who operated a private Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA, claimed responsibility for the failed attack.
Venezuelan prosecutors said Mr Denman and Mr Berry have both been found guilty of conspiracy, trafficking in illegal weapons and terrorism.
The pair, who were arrested in the coastal fishing community of Chuao, have since been widely displayed by officials on Venezuelan state TV as proof of their long-held claims that the United States is set on overthrowing Mr Maduro’s socialist government.
The botched coup also led to claims that US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido was behind a signed agreement to carry out the attack.
Mr Guaido and US officials have denied any role in the attack.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would use all possible means towards achieving the release of Mr Denman and Mr Berry.
Venezuelan authorities also opened the trial of six American executives of the Houston-based Citgo company, who were arrested more than two years ago on corruption charges.
The case appeared to stall for months until former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson met with Mr Maduro in Venezuela’s capital Caracas to call for their release.
Both cases play out amid hostility between the US and Venezuelan governments.
The Trump administration last year threw its support behind Mr Guaido, who declared he was Venezuela’s legitimate president, vowing to oust Mr Maduro.
Mr Guaido blames Mr Maduro for the once-wealthy nation’s economic and social collapse, while the socialist leader says Washington is manipulating Mr Guaido to steal the nation’s vast oil wealth.