The uncertain fate of Alex Saab | International

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during an appearance. In the box, businessman Alex Saab.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during an appearance. In the box, businessman Alex Saab.Jhonn Zerpa / Miraflores Press / dp / Europa Press

Cape Verde this week issued pretrial detention to Alex Saab, detained in mid-June when he landed on a private plane in the archipelago after an Interpol red alert was issued. This is the first step to start the extradition process of the man who has been designated as figurehead of Nicolás Maduro by the United States. But the fate of Alex Saab, which has generated deep concern in the ranks of Chavismo, has not yet been written. The process could take a few weeks and requires a formal request from Washington that must be made within 18 days and whose approval will be decided by a court. The Colombian businessman is in the custody of the Judicial Police in Sal, one of the Cape Verde islands.

“Cape Verde does not have a bilateral extradition agreement with the United States, but it is linked to the United Nations conventions that oblige it to comply with the request, if it is made,” José Landim, attorney for that country, told the press. local. However, Saab can appeal the decision and in that case the lapses would change. Time plays in favor of what, according to the accusations, has been the contractor most favored by the Venezuelan regime and who faces charges in two courts in the United States – where he was included in the call Clinton list along with his partner Álvaro Pulido- and in Colombia, accused of being a financial operator of the Chavista leader and his wife, Cilia Flores. That role of operator became even more essential after the sanctions imposed on Venezuelan officials. The extradition seems uncertain not only because of the circumstances of the arrest but because of the vastness of its fabric of power and the lobby that Venezuela is exercising to avoid it.

Chavismo has on other occasions managed to dissuade arrests of key figures in its government. In 2014, former intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal, with accusations of drug trafficking and terrorism, managed to wriggle out of a DEA arrest in Aruba, where he traveled because he would serve as consul although he still did not have the credentials. After four days of pressure, the Netherlands released him, returned to the country and was received as a hero by Nicolás Maduro. Last year, already politically separated from Maduro, Carvajal was again detained in Spain and awaiting extradition in house prison he managed to escape and is currently a fugitive.

Fears that the same will happen with Saab, manifested above all in the opposition ranks, are unprecedented. The regime’s vigorous protest at his arrest has shown how important the businessman is to Maduro. After keeping him for years in the shadows, but after the business of importing food for the CLAP program, medicines and the management of gold, coal and oil, Caracas reacted declaring him as a Venezuelan citizen and agent of his Government, with diplomatic prerogatives in a humanitarian mission. He also mobilized his allies, especially Russia, to mediate the arrest, they have claimed journalistic versions. The case has now entered the long-running geopolitical struggle between Washington and Caracas.

Despite his low profile, the press in Venezuela, Colombia and the United States has investigated him thoroughly at least since 2015. Born in the Colombian city of Barranquilla, 48, he began his business life selling promotional key chains and work uniforms. In those years, he met his partner Álvaro Pulido, who was called Germán Rubio until 2001 and faced a conviction for drug trafficking in the United States, with whom he began the export of merchandise to Venezuela, taking advantage of the exchange control implemented in 2003, the great centrifuge of corruption. Saab, which multiplied its businesses during Maduro’s mandate, started in 2013, entered fully into the dome of Chavismo. Former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba, close to former President Hugo Chávez, facilitated that relationship, according to the accusations.

Former Colombian presidents Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe Vélez took the opportunity to attack Juan Manuel Santos for the images of the signing of a contract in which Saab appears, but the former president clarified in an interview in the newspaper Time I didn’t know who that businessman was. The fence around Saab, in any case, was tightening from the end of 2018, when he had to leave Colombia due to the investigations that were following him. That same year, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office seized merchandise for the CLAPs for the payment of surcharges on low-quality food. The research portal Armando Info had already revealed in research that the product they sold as milk was high in sodium and harmful to children. In July 2019, the formal accusations came in the United States for laundering 350 million dollars between 2011 and 2015 from Venezuela, then the sanctions of the Office of Control of Assets Abroad, which were followed by more seizures of assets that it had in Italy with his wife, the Italian model Camilla Fabri and last week in Barranquilla. Eleven months passed until his arrest.

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