Sources close to actor Sean Penn confirmed that the actor played a huge part in the release of hikers Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer from an Iranian prison where they had been held for over two years. The duo, along with friend Sarah Shourd, were captured by Iranian troops and charged with espionage when they got lost hiking along the Iraq-Iran border.

Penn is close friends with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  Reuters reported

Chavez¬† urged his ally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to release the hikers after the South American leader was lobbied by pals in U.S. “intellectual circles.

Fattal and Bauer were released on $500,000 “bail” each after eight-year sentences were delivered in August, 2011.

Shourd’s bail was the same, but she did not go to trial and was released in 2010 on humanitarian grounds.

photo: screen shot, Sean Penn on Charlie Rose