Monday 27 September 2021

Nicolas Maduro’s main front man, Alex Saab, is arrested in Africa

Spain's media implicate Costa Rica involved in case of alleged money laundering that president Alvarado delegitimized

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Authorities in Cape Verde have arrested a businessman, singled out by the Venezuelan opposition as the “figurehead” of President Nicolás Maduro, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Saturday, a move Venezuelan authorities called a violation of international law.

The 48-year-old Alex Saab, a Colombian who also has a Venezuelan passport, and his partner Álvaro Pulido were charged in July 2019 in the United States of laundering money under a bribery scheme, in which they would have transferred US$350 million out of Venezuela to foreign accounts that they owned or controlled.

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The U.S. also sanctioned Saab for the food deals, which U.S. officials described as a scam designed to enrich Saab and Maduro.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said in a statement that Saab was arrested pursuant to an Interpol red notice issued with respect to his U.S. indictment.

Maria Dominguez, Saab’s U.S.-based attorney, confirmed his arrest in the archipelago nation off the coast of western Africa, but declined to provide further details.

If found guilty, they face up to 20 years in prison. However, the possibility of potential extradition was not immediately apparent, since Cape Verde has no treaty with the United States.

The conspiracy would include Maduro’s 3 stepchildren, as well as 13 companies in various countries and illegal operations in the gold sector in Venezuela.

In a statement, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said Saab had been acting as an “agent” of the state at the time of his detention, on business to obtain food, medicine and other humanitarian goods to help the South American country fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Venezuela calls on the state of Cabo Verde to set the citizen Alex Saab free,” the ministry said in a statement, calling the arrest an “arbitrary detention” in violation of international law and adding Saab should have had diplomatic immunity.

Nicolas Maduro

The Costa Rica connection

The Spanish newspaper ABC denounced that using Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción (CLAP) as a screen, the Mexican drug cartels sent money in food containers that made a “technical stop” in Limón (Costa Rica), taking advantage of the presence in the country of the Venezuelan company Alunasa and in this way they offloaded money to be laundered in Costa Rica.

However, last September Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado, severely delegitimized and criticized the ABC report that the leaders of the Venezuelan government have received money from the Mexican drug trafficker through Costa Rica.

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Alvarado accused the Spanish media of spreading “light” on information and lacking unsupported sources for its journalistic work. In addition, without naming names, he said that there are motivations for “smearing the name of Costa Rica” for promoting a peaceful and demilitarized exit of Venezuela from the Organization of American States (OAS).

“I see there are statements with sources that are not supported and even that say things that are not, such as that the company (Alunasa)… There is an express motivation to stain the good name of Costa Rica, which defends a position of peace because we believe in that (…), “said the president at the time.

“There are no untouchables”

Parliamentary chief Juan Guaidó, recognized as the president in charge of Venezuela by fifty countries, led by the United States, said in a press conference broadcast by Zoom that the measure shows that “there are no untouchables.”

“You must understand at this time that justice comes, but it takes time. Sometimes it hurts to wait, but it comes for all Venezuelans,” said Guadio.

A senior US official, in dialogue with AFP on condition of anonymity, explained that given the shortage of foreign exchange in early 2018, Maduro gave Saab a monopoly on the sale of gold extracted illegally from the jungles of the Orinoco Mining Arch, vast mining areas in southern Venezuela.

The Treasury said that Saab worked with the former Venezuelan vice president and current oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, to set up that structure, which had the support of Bandes and the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV).

“His capture is a hard blow to the structure of the regime, it shows that Venezuelans are not alone and that there is no future with Maduro, not even for those who support him. The actions against the accomplices of the dictatorship will continue, we are determined to achieve the transition,” said Venezuelan opposition deputy Julio Borges, representative for Guaidó’s Foreign Relations.

Since last November, Saab and his Italian wife, Camilla Fabri, have been under investigation in Italy for their alleged participation in a money laundering network of subsidies for Venezuela related to the CLAP program, which has some 16 million beneficiaries, said the Italian press.

Last Tuesday, the Colombian attorney general’s office said it had frozen assets belonging to Saab in the country worth some 35 billion Colombian pesos (US$9.28 million), adding Saab was under investigation in Colombia for crimes including money laundering.

Venezuela calls for Saab’s release

In a statement, Venezuela’s foreign ministry said Saab had been acting as an “agent” of the state at the time of his detention, on business to obtain food, medicine and other humanitarian goods to help the South American country fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“Venezuela calls on the state of Cabo Verde to set the citizen Alex Saab free,” the ministry said in a statement, calling the arrest an “arbitrary detention” in violation of international law and adding Saab should have had diplomatic immunity.

 

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