Failed Maduro coup leader flew on pro-govt magnate’s plane

FILE – In this May 3, 2020 file photo, security forces guard the shore area and a boat in which authorities claim a group of armed men landed in the port city of La Guaira, Venezuela. Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said on state television that security forces overcame before dawn Sunday an armed maritime incursion with speedboats from neighboring Colombia in which several attackers were killed and others detained. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

MIAMI — It was mid-January and Jordan Goudreau was itching to get going on a secret plan to raid Venezuela and arrest President Nicolás Maduro when the former special forces commando flew to the city of Barranquilla in Colombia to meet with his would-be partner in arms.

To get there, Goudreau and two former Green Beret buddies relied on some unusual help: a chartered flight out of Miami’s Opa Locka executive airport on a plane owned by a Venezuelan businessman so close to the government of Hugo Chávez that he spent almost 4 years in a U.S. prison for trying to cover up clandestine cash payments to its allies.

The owner of the Venezuela-registered Cessna Citation II with yellow and blue lines, identified with the tail number YV-3231, was Franklin Durán, according to three people familiar with the businessman’s movements who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Durán over two decades has had numerous business ties with the socialist government of Venezuela, making him an odd choice to help a band of would-be-mercenaries overthrow Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late Chávez.

Durán and his associates are now at the center of multiple investigations in the U.S., Colombia and Venezuela into how Goudreau, a combat veteran with three Bronze Stars but little knowledge of Venezuela, managed to launch a failed raid that ended with the capture and arrest of his two special forces colleagues.

A Caracas court on Thursday ordered Durán’s arrest as part of its ongoing investigation into the incursion. The Supreme Court in a statement said Durán — who the AP learned was detained Sunday along with his brother — was suspected of crimes including treason, rebellion, conspiracy with a foreign government as well as arms trafficking and terrorism. The arrests of seven others were also ordered.

The government has yet to comment on the arrest order or explain what role Durán allegedly played in the conspiracy.

But Durán’s closeness to top officials had revived allegations floated by opposition leader Juan Guaidó and U.S. officials that he was secretly working on Maduro’s behalf and had co-opted “Operation Gideon,” the name of Goudreau’s foiled plot.

“There’s financing here from the dictatorship,” Guaidó said in an interview following the raid with EVTV Miami, an online media company run by Venezuelan exiles. “A businessman, a front man closely linked to the host of the gossip show,” he said in reference to socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, whose weekly TV program, fed by nuggets from Venezuela’s vast intelligence network that he controls, first aired the accusations of a planned attack by Goudreau in March.

Maduro has claimed that Guaidó, whose aides signed a 42-page agreement last year with Goudreau in Miami outlining a plan to take control of the country, was behind last month’s raid, with backing from the CIA or the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, Goudreau said he was never paid and the two sides angrily split. For its part, the Trump administration has denied it was behind the plot, with the president joking that had the U.S. been involved it would have gone very badly for Maduro.

The Associated Press on May 1 first broke the story of Goudreau’s bizarre plan to train a volunteer army made up of a few dozen Venezuelan military deserters at clandestine camps along the border in neighboring Colombia. They planned to attack military bases and ignite a popular uprising. Goudreau’s partner, in what some opposition leaders called a suicide mission, was retired Venezuelan army Gen. Cliver Alcalá, who had been living in Barranquilla after fleeing his homeland in 2018.

Alcalá surrendered to U.S. authorities in March after he was indicated on drug charges, just a few days after Colombian police seized a cache of weapons that the former Chávez aide said belonged to the rebel cadre he and Goudreau were readying to bring down Maduro.

But despite no overt U.S. support, a poorly-trained force that stood no chance against Venezuela’s sizable military and indications that Maduro’s spies had infiltrated the group, Goudreau nonetheless pushed ahead with his plans.

On May 3 — two days after the AP article — he appeared in a video from Florida claiming that a few dozen “freedom fighters” he commanded had launched a beach raid to enter Venezuela and capture Maduro. The invaders were caught almost immediately and the embattled leader denounced the assault as a U.S.-backed coup attempt. The raid has been widely ridiculed as the “Bay of Piglets,” in reference to the 1961 Cuban fiasco.

Why the plan went forward remains a mystery. But much attention has now shifted to the role of Durán and his brother Pedro.

Both men were quietly arrested Sunday in Venezuela, although Pedro was later released, according to Edward Shohat, Franklin Durán’s Miami-based lawyer. The government has yet to comment on the arrests and has not indicated if it intends to charge either with a crime.

The story of Goudreau’s flight aboard Durán’s plane was first reported by the PanAm Post, a conservative online publication run by mostly Venezuelan exiles from Miami.

According to Colombian flight documents the PanAm Post shared with the AP, the Jan. 16 trip was chartered by Servicios Aereos Mineros (SERAMI), a for-hire airline that started in the gold-producing Venezuelan state of Bolivar.

An aviation industry executive confirmed the authenticity of the documents and said SERAMI was used by the Durán brothers to charter their frequent flights between Colombia and Venezuela.

The person said Franklin Durán would frequently travel to Barranquilla — passenger manifests provided to the AP show he made at least four flights between the two countries between November 2019 and January 2020 — to bring back food and other supplies to Venezuela, where U.S. sanctions and years of mismanagement have stripped store shelves of many goods.

SERAMI is partly owned by Juan Carlos Ynfante, according to two people familiar with the company. Ynfante was arrested last year in Grand Cayman island for piloting an aircraft with $135,000 in undeclared cash. Ynfante was also named as SERAMI’s president in a 2008 U.S. federal forfeiture case in which a plane with the company’s logo was seized in Ft. Lauderdale trying to smuggle 150 kilograms of cocaine.

In addition to Goudreau and Durán’s two longtime pilots, passengers on the mid-January flight included Luke Denman and Airan Berry — two of the former Army veteran’s colleagues from the 10th Special Forces Group in Stuttgart, Germany, where he was based before retiring from the U.S. Army in 2016. The two Texas natives have said in videotaped confessions that they believed Goudreau’s company, Silvercorp USA, had been hired by Guaidó.

Its unclear why the men traveled on the plane to Colombia or if Durán even knew about it. Goudreau hung up when contacted by the AP on Wednesday. He did not respond to a text messages asking about the flight.