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  18 Oct 2021, 09:42

Alleged money launderer close to Maduro defiant after extradition to US

  CARACAS, Oct 18, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - A fugitive businessman accused of acting
as a money launderer for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime said
Sunday he would not collaborate with the United States, a day after he was
extradited to the country from Cape Verde.

  Maduro said Sunday evening in a televised address that Alex Saab's
extradition on Saturday was "one of the most ignoble and vulgar injustices
that has been committed in recent decades."

  Authorities had held a rally in Saab's support earlier Sunday in Caracas,
during which his wife, Camilla Fabri, read aloud a letter from him.

  "I will face my trial with total dignity," Saab said in the letter. "I want
to be clear: I do not have to collaborate with the United States. I have
committed no crime.

  "I declare that I am in full possession of my means and I am not suicidal,
in case I am murdered and then (they) say that I committed suicide."

  Saab, a Colombian national, 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 $350 million out of Venezuela into accounts
they controlled in the United States and other countries. They risk up to 20
years in prison.

  The US Justice Department said in a statement that Saab was due to appear
in court in Florida on Monday and expressed "admiration" to authorities in
Cape Verde for their help in the case.

  Venezuela reacted furiously, suspending talks with the US-backed opposition
on ending the country's political and economic crisis.

  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 Saab as a frontman doing shady
dealings for the populist socialist regime of Maduro.

  Colombian President Ivan Duque on Saturday praised Saab's extradition,
calling it a "triumph in the fight against the drug trafficking, asset
laundering and corruption" that he says have blossomed under Maduro's
government.

  Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the
country's acting president by the United States and more than 50 other
countries, also welcomed the move.

  "We Venezuelans, who have seen justice kidnapped for years, respect and
celebrate the system of justice in democratic countries like Cape Verde," he
tweeted.

  - 'Political pawns' -

  In a development not officially linked to the Saab extradition, shortly
after the news broke, six former oil executives under house arrest for
corruption in Venezuela were taken to an undisclosed prison.

  They had worked for Citgo, a US-based subsidiary of the state oil company
PDVSA. Five of the six hold US citizenship and the other is a permanent
resident of the United States.

  "American detainees in Venezuela are now being used as political pawns,"
said US Democratic Party heavyweight Bill Richardson, who led an unsuccessful
mission to Venezuela to seek the executives' release last year.

  Richardson has managed international negotiations for a number of high-
profile American detainees.

  "We will continue to press for their release," he said.

  - 'Kidnapping' -

  Cape Verde agreed last month to extradite Saab to the United States,
despite protests from Venezuela, which said he had been abducted by
Washington.

  "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 would 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 for the negotiations and had
hoped to make Saab one of its members until his arrest.

  Roberto Deniz, a journalist who has covered Saab's story for the Venezuelan
investigative news site Armando.info, 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."

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