Last weekend, Alex Saab’s name made headlines around the world after his extradition from Cape Verde to the United States was confirmed.
The extradition resulted in the suspension of the participation of the Venezuelan government delegation in the next meeting of the dialogue table with the opposition, since Saab, even imprisoned in the African country since July 2020, had been named as one of the representatives in the negotiations.
Alex Saab is a 49-year-old businessman, born in Barranquilla, Colombia, with dual nationality, being recognized as a Venezuelan diplomat during Nicolás Maduro’s administration. Of Lebanese origin, Saab would own Asasi Food, Mulberry Proje Yatirim and Group Grand Limited. In 2009, it started doing business with the Venezuelan government, offering construction materials for the works of the Grande Missão Vivenda – the largest housing project in the country.
In 2016, after the application of the US economic blockade against Venezuela, the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP) food imports became key, a social program created by the Venezuelan government to combat shortages and speculation in prices with food.
:: Understand CLAP, a program that fights hunger with the strength of Venezuelan communities ::
From then on, Saab assumed the position of special envoy from Venezuela to countries in Africa, with the task of establishing import contracts for all types of products and negotiating payment to suppliers, seeking to circumvent the limitations imposed by the embargo.
In 2019, Saab was sanctioned by the US for allegedly issuing overpriced contracts for Grande Vivenda Mission and CLAP.
In June 2020, Alex Saab was detained while traveling to Iran to trade gold for fuel for Venezuela. On a stopover to refuel the aircraft on the island of Cape Verde, the businessman was arrested on charges of money laundering and corruption.
:: What is happening in Venezuela? See full coverage ::
Saab’s extradition is currently before the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which should rule if the White House has its own cause to carry out the action.
The decision was postponed three times and, however, even before having a definite sentence, the United States carried out the extradition with a National Air Force plane last Saturday (16). This Monday (18), Saab participated via video conference in a court hearing in Miami, in which charges of money laundering in the amount of US$ 350 million (about R$ 1.8 billion) and corruption were presented. The next hearing was scheduled for November 1, when Saab could demand provisional release.
Prison or kidnapping?
The Venezuelan government accuses Cape Verde and the United States of kidnapping Alex Saab, considering his arrest came before there was any red alert issued by Interpol.
On top of that, in March of this year, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that Saab should be set free.
As early as June 2021, the UN Committee on Rights had also called for the suspension of Saab’s extradition and guarantees for medical care, as the diplomat was suffering from cancer.
In late September it was the turn of the African Bar Association to issue a statement demanding the “immediate and unconditional freedom” of Alex Saab.
In 2020, an International Committee for the Freedom of Alex Saab was created. Relatives denounce that the diplomat was deprived of due judicial process and a victim of torture while imprisoned in Cape Verde.
“They wanted to force him to lie and turn him into a monster to accuse Venezuela, something that Alex Saab never accepted,” President Nicolas Maduro declared after learning of the extradition.
Also read: Venezuela denounces United States at WTO for economic blockade
“I have nothing to collaborate with the United States and I have not committed any crime. Let us not be defeated”, said Alex Saab in a letter read by Camila Fabri Saab during an event held in Caracas last Sunday (17).
In September 2020, the US embassy in Cape Verde issued a statement stating that “the US government would invest $1.5 million (about R$8 million) in the country to support the country’s efforts to mitigate the crisis. caused by the covid-19 pandemic”.
Back in June of this year, the embassy announced a plan to build a new US embassy adjacent to the government palace, in a project valued at US$400 million (R$2.2 billion).
“It is clear that the US is interested in the Saab not because of any alleged crimes, but because it may hold the key to Venezuela’s ability to circumvent Washington’s deadly and illegal unilateral sanctions,” argues the US lawyer specializing in human rights Dan Kovalik.
Edition: Arturo Hartmann