Two former US Green Berets were sentenced Friday by a Venezuelan court to 20 years in prison for their role in a botched attack in May, aimed at toppling President Nicolás Maduro.
Maduro’s chief prosecutor announced the surprise decision on Friday evening.
“THEY HAVE ADMITTED THEIR RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE FACTS,” Tarek William Saab announced on Twitter, adding that proceedings would continue against dozens of other defendants accused of participating in the May 3 raid.
Lawyers for former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry said they were excluded from secret prison proceedings Friday night in violation of their constitutional rights to a defense.
“Operation Gideon” was launched from makeshift training camps in neighboring Colombia in early May and left at least eight rebel soldiers dead while more than 60 others were imprisoned.
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Ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, who ran a Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA, claimed responsibility for the failed attack and hired his two former army buddies to prepare a small cadre of Venezuelan soldiers in the desert living in makeshift camps.
Denman and Berry, both decorated former servicemen of the United States, have been convicted of conspiracy, illegal arms trafficking and terrorism. But lawyers for the men said the hearing was marred by irregularities.
Alonso Medina Roa said he was hired a month ago by the families of the two Americans but has so far not been allowed to meet or speak with his clients.
He added that Judge Máximo Marquez had never informed him of Friday night’s proceedings at SEBIN police headquarters, where the men are being held. Rather, they were represented by a public defender.
The incident sparked claims that US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó authorized Goudreau through a signed agreement to lead the attack, carried out by two of Guaidó’s former political advisers in the United States. United.
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The United States has denied any role in the attack, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington will use any means possible to win men’s freedom.
The affair takes place amid hostilities between Washington and Caracas. The Trump administration last year backed opposition leader Guaidó, who is recognized as the legitimate president of Venezuela by 60 countries that have pledged to oust Maduro.
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Guaidó blames Maduro for the once-wealthy nation’s economic and social collapse, while the socialist leader, wanted in the United States on charges of drug terrorism, says Washington is using Guaidó to steal the country’s vast oil wealth.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.