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'Ordeal is finally over' for 10 Americans being freed by Venezuela, Joe Biden says

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) receives Colombian businessman Alex Saab at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE
1 of 3 | Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C) receives Colombian businessman Alex Saab at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE

Dec. 20 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden said Wednesday 10 Americans held in Venezuela are coming home while fugitive Leonard Francis is being returned to the United States.

An ally of Venezuela President Maduro was released in the exchange.

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Alex Nain Saab Morán, a Maduro ally, was facing money laundering charges in the United States. Florida charged him in 2019, but he fled and was arrested en route to Iran.

According to CBS News, senior officials said Qatari officials helped make the prisoner swap happen.

Biden said Wednesday in a statement, "Today, 10 Americans who have been detained in Venezuela have been released and are coming home, including all six wrongfully detained Americans. These individuals have lost far too much precious time with their loved ones, and their families have suffered every day in their absence. I am grateful that their ordeal is finally over, and that these families are being made whole once more."

The released Americans included Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, Joseph Cristella and Savoi Wright, along with former Green Berets Luke Denman and Airan Berry. The other names of those freed have not yet being released.

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The deal is viewed by many as a sign of thawing relations between the United States and Venezuela.

In October, a deal was reached to lift some economic sanctions after the Venezuelan government and opposition leaders there agreed to conditions for presidential elections that will include opposition candidates. That election is set to happen in the second half of 2024.

"We are ensuring that the Venezuelan regime meets its commitments," Biden said in the Wednesday statement. " They have announced an electoral roadmap -- agreed to by opposition parties -- for competitive presidential elections in 2024. This a positive and important step forward."

The fugitive returning from Venezuela to the United States is known as "Fat Leonard," a former defense contractor behind one of the largest bribery scandals in U.S. history.

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