Utah man sues Maduro over trauma caused by nearly two years of imprisonment in Venezuela

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MIAMI– A Utah man imprisoned in Venezuela for nearly two years has sued President Nicolás Maduro, accusing the left-wing leader of heading a “criminal enterprise” that kidnaps, tortures and falsely imprisons American citizens.

The complaint filed by Joshua Holt in Miami federal court on Thursday is the latest in a series of lawsuits by Americans against Maduro’s government over its alleged ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the US has labeled a terrorist group are labeled.

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It seeks compensation for damages suffered by Holt and his family under a little-used federal law, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows U.S. victims of foreign terror groups to seize the assets of their perpetrators.

Holt, then in his mid-20s, traveled to Venezuela in 2016 to marry a fellow Mormon he met online while practicing his Spanish. Shortly afterwards, the couple was arrested at her family’s apartment in a public housing project during a raid by security forces who said they found him stockpiling an assault weapon and grenades. A few days later, top officials appeared on state television and accused Holt of being a “CIA terrorist” sent to overthrow Maduro.

Holt describes in his 99-page complaint how after his arrest he was driven to an abandoned construction site, where he was lined up against a wall as what appeared to be a firing squad pointed their guns at him and fired.

“It was a mock execution: the weapons were not loaded,” the complaint said. “Josh thought, this is the point where I’m going to die, one of these police officers is going to get a bullet.” ”

Holt lost 60 pounds in the first six months of his captivity. And without any medical treatment, he developed kidney stones, bronchitis and a painful cracked tooth while locked in a small, smelly cell with no toilet.

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His wife, Thamy Holt, was also imprisoned and repeatedly pressured to sign a confession that her husband was part of a CIA plot – something she never agreed to.

Ultimately, Holt would be released in 2018 as a result of back-channel negotiations led by an aide to Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before retiring in 2019. According to the complaint, Holt’s prison guard Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, then head of SEBIN’s intelligence police, acknowledged the false nature of the charges after the American’s release.

“I’m sorry you had to go through this,” Gonzalez Lopez said to Holt, according to the complaint, as he personally escorted the American from prison to a waiting plane that would take Holt to freedom and an immediate meeting at the White House with then-President Donald J. Trump.

The lawsuit seeks damages for the trauma the Holts say they and their loved ones continue to suffer, including anxiety, insomnia and depression. Laurie Holt, who led the campaign for her son’s release, died in 2019 at the age of 50 from a heart disease that her family believes was caused by the long prison sentence.

“Unfortunately, the Holts’ escape from Venezuela was not the end of the Holt family’s ordeal,” the complaint said.

Other Americans imprisoned in Venezuela have managed to win major judgments against Maduro and his inner circle on similar legal grounds.

In 2022, a federal judge in Miami awarded $73 million in damages to the family of a prominent opponent of Maduro, who died while in custody after inexplicably falling from the 10th floor of a SEBIN building Police. And last year, an exiled Venezuelan lawyer won $153 million after being lured home by kidnapping his father, only to be jailed himself on trumped-up charges of working as a “financial terrorist” undermining Maduro’s rule.

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As in the previous cases, Holt accused Maduro in his lawsuit of controlling the ‘Cartel of the Suns’, an alleged drug smuggling gang involving top Venezuelan officials and FARC guerrillas and allegedly transporting 200 tons of cocaine from Venezuela to the USA sends. every year.

But collecting those big rewards has proven daunting. Maduro, nor his close associates, are not known to have any property or bank accounts in their names in the US. Whatever the asset officials have stolen, it is more likely to be in the hands of a large number of front men whose assets are difficult to trace and seize.

“These allied countries engaged in large-scale criminal enterprises are black belts in hiding their money,” said Sam Dubbin, a Miami lawyer representing Cuban doctors seeking justice for forced labor by the island’s communist government.

One of Maduro’s alleged frontmen, Colombian-born businessman Alex Saab, is named as a defendant in Holt’s lawsuit. According to the complaint, Saab’s 2020 arrest in Cape Verde on a US arrest warrant for money laundering led the “Maduro criminal enterprise” to begin a campaign to arrest even more Americans to use as a “bargaining chip” to exchange before his release.

Biden granted clemency to Saab last year as part of a swap for 10 Americans and a fugitive Pentagon contractor imprisoned in Venezuela. Maduro insists Saab was a Venezuelan diplomat unlawfully detained during a fuel stop on his way to Iran to buy food and medicine that have become scarce under US sanctions.

Among the six other Maduro loyalists named as defendants and allegedly responsible for Holt’s capture are Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, the commander of the armed forces and the head of the Supreme Court.

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Follow Goodman: @APJoshGoodman

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