CARACAS: An “American spy” arrested near Venezuelan oil installations last week will be charged with “terrorism,” Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced Monday.
Venezuela announced the arrest on Friday, saying a US citizen he identified as Matthew John Heath had been spying on two oil refineries when he was captured with cash and weapons. Seven Venezuelan citizens were arrested in follow-up raids over the weekend, Saab said. One of them was a serving member of the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
“All the Venezuelan citizens are going to be charged with the crimes of treason, terrorism, illicit traffic of weapons and association (to commit crimes), while the US citizen is going to be charged with terrorism, illicit traffic of weapons and association,” Saab told state television. Saab said the arrest of the American had made it possible to “neutralize” what he described as an attempt to destablilize the oil industry and the national electrical system.
A grenade-launcher, a submachine gun and an amount of explosive material were found in Heath’s vehicle, the attorney general said. He said Heath had served a series of three-month missions in Iraq from 2005 to 2016, working “as a communications officer in the CIA’s secret base.”
Announcing the arrest on Friday, President Nicolas Maduro said the US citizen had been “spying in Falcon state on the Amuay and Cardon refineries” when he was detained the previous day. Maduro said the arrest occurred after authorities on Wednesday “discovered and dismantled” a “plan to cause an explosion” at El Palito refinery—the closest to Caracas—located in Carabobo state.
Last month two former US soldiers, Luke Alexander Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, were sentenced to 20 years in prison in Venezuela on charges including terrorism, after a failed bid to invade the Caribbean country last May.
Just hours before Friday’s announcement, the Venezuelan government said it was establishing an “emergency plan” intended to regulate “fuel distribution” in light of severe gasoline shortages in the country, where people wait in lines stretching miles to fuel up their vehicles.