Alex Saab, Colombian Businessman and Deal Maker for Venezuelan Regime Extradited To US From Cape Verde
The United States Justice Department announced on Saturday October 16 that Alex Saab was being extradited to the US. The announcement came after 16 months of Saab’s detention in Cape Verde following an Interpol red notice due to a US indictment.
According to US authorities “Saab is charged with laundering the proceeds of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in connection with a scheme to pay bribes to take advantage of Venezuela’s government-controlled exchange rate.”
Saab is accused of siphoning around $350 million USD out of Venezuela and into overseas accounts via the US. The US also alleges Saab was behind a corruption network involving a government-subsidized food program called CLAP that allowed Maduro and his allies to steal millions of dollars.
Saab faces money laundering and fraud charges in his native Colombia as well. According to reports by the the Colombian publication El Espectador, Colombia’s prosecutors opened a case against Saab immediately after his arrest in Cape Verde.
“According to the investigative body, Saab would have resorted to multiple maneuvers to evade tax and customs responsibilities, and give the appearance of legality to an irregular scheme of exports and imports, especially through its company Shatex S.A., which for years was dedicated to the export of textiles and construction materials.
Among the multiple irregularities, it was found that the company registered an economic growth of 923% in 2007, unusual growth if one takes into account that between 2004 and 2006 the company actually lost money and revenues fell by 33%. Shatex S.A. ceased operations in 2010 but in the following years, supposedly made exports, conducted sales and purchase operations, and in 2011 it channeled the flow of more than $2 billion COP abroad through the Colombian exchange system”, reads the report.
Colombian President Iván Duque lauded the extradition of Saab, calling it a “triumph in the fight against drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption led by the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.”
Saab, a 49-year old Colombian national was born in Barranquilla, son of a Lebanese migrant. Saab was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped to refuel in Cape Verde on the way to Iran. The arrest was followed by a lengthy legal battle as the United States has no extradition treaty with Cape Verde and Saab, who also holds Venezuelan citizenship, was given diplomatic coverage by the Maduro government after the arrest.
Saab had also been sanctioned in the past by the Trump administration for allegedly utilizing a network of shell companies spanning the globe, in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Hong Kong, Panama, Colombia and Mexico, to hide huge profits from overvalued food contracts obtained through bribes and kickbacks.
Venezuelan authorities have called the US charges politically motivated. The government of the South American nation, accused the United States of kidnapping Saab, whom they describe as a diplomatic envoy in a mission to Iran to negotiate supplies of fuel and food that have been interrupted by U.S. sanctions.
Venezuela’s government said Saturday it would halt the Mexico-based negotiations with the opposition in retaliation for the extradition. Nicolás Maduro had named Saab as a member of its negotiating team in these talks, which began in September.
Venezuelan authorities also re-apprehended six oil executives, including five American citizens, who had been under house arrest. The executives worked for Citgo Petroleum, a Houston-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. They were arrested in 2017 on embezzlement charges stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in CITGO bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Last year, they were sentenced to between 8 and 13 years in prison.
On May of this year, the so-called “CITGO 6” were released to house arrest in an apparent gesture of goodwill to the Biden administration. The US State Department denounced the imprisonment of “six wrongfully detained Americans in Venezuela” and called for their release.
According to court papers filed November 1st, US prosecutors have agreed to dismiss almost all of the lengthy indictment against Alex Saab as part of a secret deal made with Cape Verde to gain his extradition to the United States. However, Saab still faces up to 20 years in prison on the lone remaining money-laundering charge. After an initial court appearance on October 18, Saab is now set to appear for his arraignment date in federal court on November 15.