Venezuela's chief prosecutor on Monday accused a U.S. citizen recently arrested in the Caribbean nation of spying and planning to sabotage oil refineries and electrical service in order to stir unrest and kill innocent people.
The man, alleged to have CIA ties, had help from three Venezuelan conspirators, who were arrested last week near a pair of oil refineries on the north Caribbean coast, Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said on state television.
The office gave the US suspect's name as Matthew John Heath. The prosecutor showed pictures of equipment allegedly seized with the group, including a grenade launcher, plastic explosives, a satellite phone and a bag of US dollars. Authorities said cellphones taken from the men when they were arrested last week include images of a large bridge in Zulia state and oil refineries.
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 man of planning to open a drug trafficking route through Venezuela.
President Nicolas Maduro announced on Friday that an unnamed suspected U.S. spy had been captured, saying he was a Marine and former CIA operative in Iraq.
US authorities have not commented on the case. The Associated Press was unable to make immediate contact with Heath, an attorney or a relative representing him for comment on the accusations.
The arrest surfaced as this nation, 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. Venezuela also struggles to provide electricity to residents, especially in Zulia state, once a major hub of the nation's vast oil production.
Heath is accused of entering Venezuela illegally, the prosecutor said, adding that he didn't have a passport but rather had a copy of it hidden in one of his shoes. The three Venezuelans accused of conspiring with Heath include a military officer, Saab said, adding that they helped him enter from Colombia.
Saab said Heath had worked as a mercenary in Iraq for a private security contracting company.
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.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)