Venezuelan media name alleged U.S. spy arrested near refinery complex

CARACAS (Reuters) – Pro-government media in Venezuela on Sunday named an alleged U.S. spy who President Nicolas Maduro said was captured last week near the country’s largest oil refinery complex.

Outlets close to the ruling Socialist Party identified the detainee as a former marine, John Heath Mattew, and said he was arrested on Thursday with three other people including a sergeant major in Venezuela’s National Guard as they drove between Falcon and Zulia states in northwestern Venezuela.

Ultimas Noticias newspaper, citing a preliminary report by the authorities, said the U.S. suspect was a former marine who had fought in Iraq, and that during the arrest soldiers seized a satellite phone, credit cards and mobile phones.

Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.

Neither Venezuela’s information ministry nor prosecutor’s office immediately responded to requests for comment on Sunday.

The U.S. State Department had no comment on the matter. The White House did not respond to request for comment.

Falcon state is home to the giant Paraguana Refining Complex, comprised of the Amuay and Cardon refineries. Both have experienced multiple outages in recent years that the opposition blames on mismanagement and lack of maintenance.

Maduro has said the suspect was caught while spying on the refineries and had been in possession of “specialized weapons … large amounts of dollars and other items.”

“All the evidence is there, the photographs, the videos, this spy is a marine, who was serving as a marine at CIA bases in Iraq,” Maduro said on state TV on Friday.

Word of the alleged U.S. spy came after a Venezuelan court last month sentenced two former U.S. Green Berets to 20 years in prison for their role in a failed incursion in May.

(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Daniel Wallis)