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Ex-Green Berets behind botched coup to topple Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro sentenced to 20 years each in prison

TWO former Green Berets involved in a botched coup to topple Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro have been been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, were arrested in May when a team of mercenaries and dissidents landed in Venezuela in a raid called Operation Gideon.

Venezuelan attorney general Tarek William Saab announced the two Americans had been sentenced in a post on Twitter.

On Friday, he wrote: "Following on from their arraignment, they have admitted their responsibility for the acts.

"The men ADMITTED having committed crimes of conspiracy, illegal association, trafficking of weapons of war and terrorism as defined by the Penal Code: for this they have been sentenced to 20 years, months and nine days in prison."

He appears to have left out the number of months both men were sentenced to – and added hearings continue for the rest of the men arrested on May 3.

The botched mission has been dubbed the "Bay of Piglets" – in reference to the failed coup against Fidel Castro in 1961.

Denman and Berry's mission had failed before it even began as Venezuelan state intelligence agencies were already aware of the plot and had set a trap.

Venezuelan forces intercepted the first fast attack boat before it even reached the shore, and were lying in wait for the second in an ambush.

Denman and Berry – who had served together in Iraq and Afghanistan – were joined in the dawn raid by around 60 Venezuela dissidents as they had hoped to oust Maduro.

The operation was planned by American private security firm Silvercorp USA after the firm was approached Maduro's rival Juan Guaido.

His government is officially recognized by the US as the true leaders of Venezuela.

Silvercorp boss Jordan Goudreau is currently under federal investigation in the US after revealing he was behind the scheme.

Goudreau – also a former Green Beret – claims to have signed a $212million contract with Guaido to remove Maduro.

The US also has offered a $15million reward for information that leads to Maduro's arrest or conviction. 

It is claimed the plan was to capture Maduro, secure an airport and then fly him back to the US.

Denman and Berry flew to Colombia on January 16 and trained their forces after being approached by Goudreau for the job.

Two captains in the Venezuelan National Guard, Antonio José Sequea and Víctor Pimienta, were among the Venezuelans arrested in the attempted coup.

They had been leading the Venezuelan dissidents and had participated in previous uprisings against Maduro.

It emerged Venezuela's rival government had been speaking to Silvercorp in October 2019 as they looked at options of removing Maduro for power and installing Guaido.

Guaido's advisors however cut all times with the firm in November and withdrew from an agreement with Goudreau – denying any further involvement with the scheme.

Maduro accused the the US government of being behind the plan, and said the Americans were "playing Rambo".

Denman claimed the plot had the backing of Donald Trump's administration when he was paraded on state TV.

He  is seen being quizzed about who is behind the plot, and he answers: "President Donald Trump."

The President denied any US involvement in the failed operation – saying he only heard about the coup when speaking to reporters.

He said: "Whatever it is, we'll let you know. But it has nothing to do with our government."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also denied Denman's claims – but said in May officials would work to get the detained Americans back.

He said: "If the Maduro regime decides to hold them, we'll use every tool to try to get them back. It's our responsibility to do so."

Mr Pompeo however did express doubt over the claims, suggesting Maduro's government could be lying about the men.

Maduro brandished equipment like night-vision goggles said to be seized from the alleged mercenaries during a press conference, as he accused Denman and Berry of trying to assassinate him.

He said: "The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid. They were playing Rambo."

Tensions between the US and Venezuela run high amid the South American country's crumbling economy and political unrest.

Conflict has built since Maduro was elected to a new term in 2018 as international politicians suggested the vote was rigged.

The Trump administration supports the opposition's quest for "freedom and democracy" in Venezuela over the allegations.

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