Maduro’s Ally Alex Saab Released in U.S. and Venezuela Prisoner Exchange

Published: 22 December 2023

Alex Saab mugshot

Alex Saab, charged with money laundering in the United States, was handed over to Venezuela in a prisoner exchange between the two countries. (Photo:, Wikipedia, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

The U.S. and Venezuela agreed to a prisoner exchange Wednesday, which saw ten Americans returned to their families in exchange for an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from low-income housing projects.

The swap resulted from an agreement between Venezuela and the United States, signed in October by Maduro’s representatives and the Unitary Platform in Barbados, where they agreed on mechanisms to facilitate democratic elections for Venezuela in 2024.

Alex Saab was extradited to the United States in 2021, following accusations that, together with his partner Álvaro Pulido Vargas, he diverted more than US$350 million from a 2021 Venezuelan government contract to develop low-income housing. He was still awaiting trial for money laundering charges before his release.

President Nicolás Maduro personally received and greeted Saab upon his return. “The Nation has triumphed! Welcome Alex Saab, brave and patriotic man who resisted with dignity a 1280-day kidnapping in the hands of the U.S. The Venezuelan people celebrate your return, times of vindication of truth and justice, neither hatred nor fascism will be able to defeat us. Long live the Victory of truth and dignity of Venezuela!” he posted on his X account.

In addition to the prisoners, Venezuela also released fugitive Leonard Glenn Francis, also known as “Fat Leonard,” who is implicated in the U.S. Navy’s largest corruption scandal in history.

Francis bribed officers in exchange for contracts to service and resupply Navy ships and submarines throughout the Pacific Ocean. His company overbilled the Navy by more than US$35 million.

Amongst the American citizens freed were Joseph Cristella, Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, Savoi Wright, as well as others who wished to remain private.

"This is a positive and important step forward. And today, they are releasing twenty political prisoners, on top of five released previously,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in an official statement. “We will continue to monitor this closely and take appropriate action if needed. We stand in support of democracy in Venezuela and the aspirations of the Venezuelan people.”