17 Oct 2021, 10:04

Fugitive businessman close to Venezuela's Maduro extradited to US

  MIAMI, Oct 17, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - A fugitive businessman accused of acting as

a money launderer for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime was
extradited Saturday to the United States from Cape Verde, his legal team told

  Manuel Pinto Monteiro, a lawyer for Saab in Cape Verde, said "we were
informed that Alex Saab was put on a US Justice Department plane and sent to
that country."

  Pinto Monteiro insisted the extradition was illegal because, he said, the
legal process surrounding it in Cape Verde had not run its full course.

  Venezuela reacted angrily to the extradition, suspending talks with the US-
backed opposition in Mexico City. It had hoped to make Saab part of the
government delegation to that dialogue on ending the country's political and
economic crisis.

  Saab and his business partner Alvaro Pulido are charged in the United
States with running a network that exploited food aid destined for Venezuela,
an oil rich nation mired in an acute economic crisis.

  They are alleged to have moved some $350 million out of Venezuela into
accounts they controlled in the United States and other countries. They risk
up to 20 years in prison.

  Saab, who also has Venezuelan nationality and a Venezuelan diplomatic
passport, was indicted in July 2019 in Miami for money laundering, and was
arrested during a plane stopover in Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa
in June 2020.

  Venezuela's opposition has described the Colombian national as a front man
doing shady dealings for the populist socialist regime of Maduro.

  The US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to an AFP query
seeking confirmation of the extradition of Saab.

  Colombian President Ivan Duque said he had in fact been extradited.

  "The extradition of Alex Saab is a triumph in the fight against the drug
trafficking, asset laundering and corruption that the dictatorship of Nicolas
Maduro has fostered," Duque tweeted.

  "Colombia has supported and will continue to support the United States in
the investigation of the transnational crime network led by Saab."

  - Heavy security at airport -

  Cape Verde agreed last month to extradite Saab to the US, despite protests
from Venezuela.

  Venezuela said Saturday that Saab, whom it called its "ambassador," had
been abducted by the United States.

  "Venezuela denounces the kidnapping of the Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab by
the government of the United States in complicity with the authorities in
Cape Verde," the Caracas government said in a statement.

  The speaker of Congress, Jorge Rodriguez, said the government will not
attend the fourth round of talks with the opposition due to start Sunday in
Mexico City "as a deep expression of our protest against the brutal
aggression" against Saab. Rodriguez leads the government delegation.

  On Sal, the Cape Verde island from which the plane carrying Saab took off,
a state TV correspondent told AFP that a US Justice Department plane left
from Amilcar Cabral International Airport in the afternoon.

  The reporter said there was a heavy police presence on roads leading to the
airport and some entrances to it were closed off.

  Venezuela had called Saab's arrest in Cape Verde "arbitrary" and claimed he
was suffering "mistreatment and torture" at the hands of the Cape Verde

  Roberto Deniz, a journalist who has covered Saab's story for the Venezuelan
investigative news site, said last month that the regime in
Caracas was desperate to get him released.

  "It is clear that there is a lot of fear, not only because he may reveal
information about bribes, about the places where money was moved and the
inflated pricing," Deniz said, but also because Saab "was the bridge for many
of these deals that the Maduro regime is beginning to carry out with other
allied countries."

  Venezuela's former attorney general Luisa Ortega, who broke with the regime
and fled the country, said Saab was "the main figurehead of the regime,"
adding that she herself had passed on evidence in the case to some


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