Former American soldiers jailed over failed coup

The Venezuelan military said it captured mercenaries after the attempted coup

A Venezuelan court has sentenced two former American soldiers to 20 years in jail for trying to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.

Luke Denman and Airan Berry were found guilty of conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons and terrorism.

The pair were among 13 people arrested in May as they attempted to enter Venezuela by sea from Colombia.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said proceedings will continue against others accused of assisting the raid.

In a tweet, Mr Saab shared images of vehicles, weapons and identity documents, and said the American “mercenaries” had “admitted their responsibility for the facts”.

US President Donald Trump, long an opponent of socialist President Maduro, has denied accusations by Venezuela that he was behind the incident.

The US backs opposition leader Juan Guaidó and recognises him as the country’s legitimate leader.

What is the background to this?

Denman, 34, and Berry, 41, are former special forces soldiers who appeared in video shown on Venezuelan state TV earlier this year.

In the video, Denman appears to confess to his involvement in “Operation Gideon” – a plot to either kill President Maduro or kidnap him and take him to the United States.

President Nicolás Maduro (left) said the plot by Luke Denman and Airan Berry (right) was orchestrated by US President Donald Trump
President Nicolás Maduro (left) said the plot by Luke Denman and Airan Berry (right) was orchestrated by US President Donald Trump

He explained that he was hired to train Venezuelans in Colombia before returning to Caracas and taking control of an airport to allow Mr Maduro to be taken out of the country.

Denman said he and Berry were contracted by a Florida-based security company, Silvercorp USA, to carry out the operation. The firm is headed by Jordan Goudreau, an American military veteran who has openly admitted involvement in the operation.

The Washington Post has published a document which it says is a contract between Silvercorp and the Venezuelan opposition worth $213m (£170m) to invade Venezuela and overthrow President Maduro.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó denied having anything to do with Mr Goudreau.

Relations between the US and Venezuela are tense. Mr Maduro has accused America of manipulating political opposition to steal the country’s vast oil wealth. America and Mr Guaidó, meanwhile, have blamed the president for Venezuela’s economic collapse.

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