Venezuela announces terrorism charges against alleged US 'spy'

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Guardian staff and agencies in Caracas
·2 min read
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<span>Photograph: Manaure Quintero/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Manaure Quintero/Reuters

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor has announced charges of terrorism and weapons trafficking against an alleged US “spy” who was detained last week in the South American country.

The man, named as Matthew John Heath, was plotting attacks against the country’s oil industry and electricity system, Tarek William Saab, chief prosecutor, said on state television on Monday.

Saab showed pictures of equipment allegedly seized from the group, including a grenade launcher, plastic explosives, a satellite phone and a bag of US dollars.

Saab added that three Venezuelan citizens, including one member of the military, were arrested and charged with treason as part of the alleged plot.

“They tried to fill the country with blood,” Saab said. “The Venezuelan state has managed to neutralize the plans to attack the oil industry and national electric system.”

Authorities said cellphones taken from the men when they were arrested last week include images of a large bridge in Zulia state and dilapidated oil refineries in Falcón state.

“Everything here could qualifies as a lethal weapon designed to cause harm and to promote assassinations, crimes against the people of Venezuela,” said Saab, who also accused the US man of planning to open a drug trafficking route through Venezuela.

The president, Nicolás Maduro, announced on Friday that a suspected US spy had been captured.

US authorities have not commented on the case.

The arrest surfaced as Venezuela, once wealthy from oil, has been gripped by a deep gasoline shortage that has sparked mile-long lines to fuel up, even in the capital of Caracas. The country also struggles to provide electricity to residents, especially in Zulia state, once a major hub of the nation’s vast oil production.

Saab said Heath was not carrying a passport and had entered illegally via the Colombian border, but that authorities found a passport photocopy hidden in one of his shoes.

Saab said Heath had worked as a mercenary in Iraq from 2006 to 2016 for MVM Inc, a Virginia-based private security contracting company. The firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Related: 'His head wasn't in the world of reality': how the plot to invade Venezuela fell apart

The arrest follows a failed beach incursion in early May that landed two ex-Green Beret soldiers in a Venezuelan jail for allegedly participating in a failed attempt to overthrow the socialist government.

The two former US special forces soldiers were arrested along with more than 80 rebel Venezuelan fighters who staged a failed beach attack called Operation Gideon aimed at arresting Maduro.

The operation, which left several rebels dead, was orchestrated by Jordan Goudreau, an American citizen who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two ex-Green Berets in Goudreau’s force – Luke Denman and Airan Berry – have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.