The Cape Verde government has approved the extradition to the United States of Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who faces money-laundering charges in Miami federal court, although the alleged business partner of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro can still appeal the decision, his lawyer said Tuesday.
The government of the African island nation made the decision following a recommendation by the Cape Verde Attorney General’s Office to proceed with the extradition, but the final judgment will fall to the island’s Barlavento Appeals Tribunal, Saab’s lawyer, José Manuel Pinto Monteiro, said.
Saab has been at the center of a tug-of-war between the U.S. government and Venezuela, with Maduro fearing that Saab’s eventual extradition could lead to a plea deal that could reveal highly sensitive financial information about his regime, which is accused by Washington of running a drug cartel.
The Colombian businessman was arrested in mid-June, after his private jet stopped at the island off the African coast on its way to Iran, after U.S. officials issued an Interpol notice.
The Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Saab and his partner, Álvaro Pulido, with running a corruption and money-laundering network that has allowed them to extract $350 million from Venezuelan state coffers and transfer it abroad. If found guilty, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
But the federal investigations point to Saab’s being much more than one of the many individuals close to Maduro who have benefited from the Venezuelan regime’s widespread corruption.
According to those investigations, Saab emerged in recent years as the main architect of the underground financial network that has allowed the regime to evade U.S.-imposed sanctions, serving oftentimes as a Caracas envoy to negotiate the gold and oil smuggled out of the country.
That is the reason Maduro is willing to do anything to keep Saab from being extradited, Richard Gregorie, a retired former federal prosecutor, said recently in an interview on WLRN.
“The Venezuelan government is a kleptocracy and they certainly don’t want him to talk,” said Gregorie, who was involved in the early investigation of the Colombian businessman. “Saab is the master of trade-based money laundering ... and Venezuela has been robbed blind with every transaction that he does.”
Maduro, who in June protested Saab’s arrest saying he had granted him Venezuelan diplomatic status, has spent considerable resources in fighting the extradition, on one occasion using his own foreign minister to exert diplomatic pressure.
The U.S. government had sanctioned Saab in July 2019, placing him on the Treasury Department’s black list, which freezes any assets he might have under U.S. jurisdiction, and accusing him of participating in a massive corruption scheme, in partnership with Maduro’s family, that siphoned out hundreds of millions from the country’s low-price food program.
But Saab is also under investigation in New York on drug-related charges stemming from his ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and he could face other charges, people close to the investigations said.
This article was supplemented by el Nuevo Herald wire services.