Maduro ally extradited to US for money laundering – .

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Maduro ally extradited to US for money laundering – .


MIAMI (AP) – A fugitive close to Venezuela’s socialist government has been boarded a plane to the United States to face money laundering charges, a senior US official confirmed on Saturday.

Alex Saab was on a Justice Ministry charter flight from Cape Verde, where he was arrested 16 months ago while making a stopover on his way to Iran for what Nicolás’ government Maduro later described as a humanitarian diplomatic mission.

The manager spoke on condition that he was not named. Previously, several Cape Verdean media had also reported his extradition, citing anonymous sources. A public relations firm representing Saab said in an email that the Colombian businessman was taken from his home without his lawyers being notified.

Saab’s arrival in the United States is sure to complicate relations between Washington and Caracas, possibly disrupting the budding talks between Maduro’s government and its US-backed opposition taking place in Mexico.

Last month, Maduro blasted the United States for “kidnapping” and “torturing” Colombian businessman Saab who prosecutors say amassed a fortune run and deal on behalf of the socialist government, which faces heavy US sanctions.

U.S. authorities have targeted Saab for years, believing it holds many secrets about how Maduro, the president’s family and key aides embezzled millions of dollars in government contracts for food and shelter amid a backdrop of widespread famine in oil-rich Venezuela.

However, his supporters, including Maduro’s government as well as his allies Russia and Cuba, regard his arrest as illegal and maintain that Saab was a diplomatic envoy of the Venezuelan government and as such enjoys legal immunity. prosecution when on official mission.

In a statement on Saturday, the Venezuelan government once again denounced the “kidnapping” of Saab by the American government “in complicity with the Cape Verdean authorities”.

“The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela repudiates this serious violation of human rights against a Venezuelan citizen, invested as a diplomat and representative of our country before the world,” the statement said.

The argument failed to convince Cape Verde’s Constitutional Court, which last month allowed his extradition after a year of feuds with Saab’s legal team, which includes former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón and BakerHostetler, l one of the largest American companies.

Miami federal prosecutors indicted Saab in 2019 on money laundering charges linked to an alleged corruption program that pocketed more than $ 350 million from a social housing project for the Venezuelan government.

Separately, Saab had been sanctioned by the previous Trump administration for allegedly using a network of shell companies spanning the globe – in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Hong Kong, Panama, Colombia and Mexico – to hide from huge profits from no-offer, overvalued food contracts obtained through bribes and kickbacks.

Some of Saab’s contracts were obtained by paying bribes to the adult children of Venezuela’s first lady Cilia Flores, according to the Trump administration. Commonly known in Venezuela as “Los Chamos”, a slang for “the children,” the three men are also under investigation by Miami prosecutors for allegedly being part of a scheme to siphon off. , $ 2 billion from the Venezuelan state oil company, two people familiar with the US investigation told The Associated Press.

But while in private, US officials have long described Saab as a leader of Maduro, he is not identified as such in court records.

The previous Trump administration had made Saab’s extradition a top priority, at one point even sending a Navy warship to the African archipelago to keep an eye on the captive.

In turn, Maduro’s government has vehemently opposed the prosecution of Saab as a veiled attempt at regime change by the U.S. government.

However, the Biden administration downplayed the importance of Saab’s problems, saying he can defend himself in US courts and that his case should not affect the ongoing Norwegian-sponsored negotiations aimed at overcoming the long economic crisis. and politics of Venezuela.

Last month, the government appointed Saab to its negotiating team and other envoys arrived in Mexico carrying signs reading “Free Alex Saab”.

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Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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