Alex Saab, a fugitive Colombian businessman accused of acting as a money launderer for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, has been extradited to the US from Cape Verde, the US Justice Department said on Saturday.
Saab is set to make his first court appearance on Monday, October 18 in a court in the state of Florida, the department said in a statement.
The agency also expressed its “gratitude to the Government of Cape Verde for its assistance and perseverance with this complex case and admiration for the professionalism of Cabo Verde’s judicial system.”
Saab and his business partner Alvaro Pulido are charged in the US with running a network that exploited food aid that was meant for Venezuela, an oil-rich nation grappling with an acute economic crisis.
Facing up to 20 years in prison, they both allegedly moved around $350 million out of Venezuela into accounts they controlled in the US and other countries.
Saab, who is also a Venezuelan national and has 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 halts talks after Saab’s extradition
Venezuela reacted furiously to Saturday’s extradition, suspending talks with the US-backed opposition on ending the country’s political and economic crisis.
According to the Associated Press, Venezuela’s government said Saturday it would halt negotiations with its opponents in retaliation for the extradition Saab, who prosecutors believe could be the most significant witness ever about corruption in the South American country.
Jorge Rodríguez, who has been heading the government’s delegation, said his team wouldn’t travel to Mexico City for the next scheduled round of negotiations.
The announcement capped a tumultuous day that saw businessman Saab placed on a US-bound plane in Cape Verde after a 16-month fight by Maduro and his allies, including Russia, who consider the Colombian-born businessman a Venezuelan diplomat.
A few hours after news of Saab’s extradition blew up Venezuelan social media, six American oil executives held on house arrest were taken back to jail by security forces — a sign that relations between Washington and Caracas could be upended after months of quiet diplomacy since Joe Biden entered the White House. Families of the men known as the Citgo 6 — for the Houston subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company where they worked — expressed frustration with both governments.
“The fact that Mr. Saab is in the US before my father is a disgrace,” said Cristina Vadell, whose father, Tomeu Vadell, is among the Americans serving out long sentences on what the US government considers trumped-up charges.
“This is additional proof that these Americans are held hostage in Venezuela, and President Biden’s administration needs to recognize this and win their release immediately,” she added.