The Cape Verde government has authorized the extradition to the United States of Colombian businessman Alex Saab, who stands accused of being the frontman for Nicolas Maduro in a vast money-laundering scheme.
The government still needs to be backed by a decision from the Cape Verde court handling the case, the lawyer of Saab, Jose Manuel Pinto Monteiro, confirmed to EFE on Tuesday, on July 14.
The Cape Verde power endorsed the extradition based on “the favorable judicial opinion of the Attorney General Office,” sent on July 8 for review to the Barlovento Court of Appeals, based on the island of St. Vincent (northern archipelago), which will take on the final deliberation, Pinto said.
Saab got arrested on Friday, June 12, when his plane stopped to refuel at Amilcar Cabral International Airport on the northern island of Sal, an airport in the West African island nation, in response to a request from the United States for alleged money-laundering offenses.
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The PGR received the extradition request from the U.S Department of Justice on Monday. June 29, and had 65 days to respond to the request.
Now, the defense team of Alex Saab has until Thursday, July 16, to file an appeal against the decision of the government with the court.
If it fails to obtain an order favorable to its claims, Saab could still appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice (STJ) and ultimately file a constitutional protection petition with the Constitutional Court.
“Our team is working with optimism to obtain the defined results, that is, the immediate release of our client,” Pinto told EFE in a telephone conversation in Praia, the Cape Verdean capital.
Following the arrest of the alleged frontman, Venezuela said Saab is a Venezuelan citizen and a government agent who was “in transit” in Cape Verde to return to the country.
Saab’s defense argues that the businessman “had the right to personal inviolability as a special envoy of Venezuela in transit through Cape Verde”.
Baltasar Garzon, in the team defending Saab
That argument will be the basis of former, and polemical, Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, proceedings to defend Saab in the international and Cape Verde courts after he joined in the businessman legal team, Pinto said.
Garzon got sentenced for violating the privacy of prisoners and defendants in 2012 when he ordered that their conversations get recorded, which is against Spanish law. He lost his post as a judge and has been barred from almost all forms of legal exercise in Europe until 2023, but he still keeps a law firm in Madrid with other lawyers.
Garzon will “lead a trial against the United States and Cape Verde to the International Court (of Justice) in The Hague for the violation of Álex Saab jurisdictional immunity,” Pinto told EFE on Monday, July 13.
Garzon will also attempt to bring a claim of between US$5 million and US$12 million against the state of Cape Verde for damage to Saab’s property and image.
Saab hired a team of lawyers, which includes recognized international specialists such as Garzon, the Dutch legal expert, Rutsel Martha, former director of legal affairs at Interpol, and Ukrainian Maryna Pogibko, an expert linked to the British firm Amadeus in London.
Despite keeping a low profile in Colombia, Saab’s name appeared in the media when former Venezuelan prosecutor Luisa Ortega accused him in 2017 of being one of the frontmen of Maduro.
Saab, who was born in the Colombian city of Barranquilla, with Lebanese ascent, is linked to several companies, including Group Grand Limited, which is accused by the US of supplying Maduro’s regime with overpriced food and provisions for the government Local Supply and Production Committees (Clap).
Alleged laundering of millions of dollars
An US government official said in July 2019 that with the Claps was given to the poorest, the Colombian businessman and Maduro’s three stepchildren reportedly made hundreds of millions of dollars.
Washington also filed charges last July against Saab and his right-hand man, Alvaro Enrique Pulido, accused of laundering up to $350 million, allegedly defrauded through the Venezuela exchange control system.
According to the United States, between November 2011 and September 2015, Saab and Pulido, with others, launder their illicit profits and transfer them from Venezuela to the bank accounts in the US, which is why Washington has jurisdiction in the case.
Their arrest came after Tuesday
His arrest came after the Colombian Attorney General Office imposed measures on Tuesday, June 9, to expropriate eight illicit properties of Saab.
According to the Prosecutor Office, these properties are worth 35 billion pesos (about 9.7 million dollars) located in Barranquilla. Saab patrimony and properties had already suffered a similar fate in Italy.