Venezuela state television has aired an apparent confession by a former US solider claiming he was hired to help “Venezuelans take back control of their country."
Luke Denman, one of 13 people arrested by Venezuelan authorities on Monday, said in the video that he and fellow US citizen Airan Berry had been contracted by a Florida security firm to seize control of Caracas airport and fly President Nicolas Maduro to the US.
Mr Denman, 34, answered questions in English from a person off-camera during the broadcast and said the firm, Silvercorp USA, signed a contract with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to seek Mr Maduro’s removal.
An advisor for Mr Guaido, Juan Rendon, told CNN on Wednesday that he signed an “exploratory agreement” with the firm to seek the capture of members of Mr Maduro’s government “to deliver them to justice”.
However, the agreement was never finalised, said Mr Rendon, and the soldiers were sent on a “botched suicide” mission without Mr Guaido’s support.
The former soldier also said his mission was to secure the airport and establish outer security, but gave no details on how his group planned to get Mr Maduro on a plane. It was unclear when or where the broadcast was filmed.
“I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country,” said Mr Denman, a former special operations forces member.
Mr Maduro frequently launches accusations that US President Donald Trump is trying to invade the country and plans to overthrow him. Mr Trump denied any involvement by the US earlier this week and a senior Trump administration official said the accusations “are not credible” and the administration remained focused on “achieving a peaceful, democratic transition in Venezuela”.
In March, the US Department of Justice charged Maduro and other senior members of his government with drug trafficking, weapons offences and “narco-terrorism”. Mr Trump’s administration offered a $15m reward for information leading to his arrest.
Mr Maduro said during a press conference after the broadcast: “Donald Trump is the direct chief of this invasion.”
He said Venezuela would seek extradition of Jordan Goudreau, an American military veteran who leads Silvercorp USA who admitted he was involved in the operation. He said the Americans would have a fair trial but did not provide any information on their whereabouts or if they have access to a lawyer.
Mr Goudreau confirmed he was the organiser of the operation, and told Reuters on Monday that Mr Denman and Mr Berry were “my guys”.
Authorities said they arrested the group about 60km (40 miles) west of Caracas’ airport, by the coastal town of Chuao, after locals alerted them. They published photos of what they said was the group’s boat, loaded with ammunition, weapons and communication equipment.
A spokesman said the State Department had no further comment about the two Americans “due to privacy considerations”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government would use “every tool” to secure their return if they were being held in Venezuela.
Reporting by Reuters
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