A Colombian businessman facing US money laundering charges and accused of malfeasance in Venezuela dealings has been arrested in the African island archipelago of Cape Verde, his lawyer in Miami said Saturday.
Cape Verde has no extradition treaty with the United States and Alex Saab’s lawyer Maria Dominguez, who confirmed his arrest to AFP, did not offer any further details about the case.
Saab and his business partner Alvaro Pulido have been charged in the US with money laundering, moving some $350 million out of Venezuela either to the United States or through the US to foreign accounts.
If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.
The US Treasury Department says since 2016, Saab has tried to profit off importing emergency food into Venezuela as it struggled with rising shortages and malnutrition, in a scheme which also includes President Nicolas Maduro’s stepchildren as well as 13 companies in various countries.
A senior US official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that in the face of a foreign currency shortage in early 2018, Maduro also granted Saab a monopoly on the sale of gold illegally extracted from vast mining areas in southern Venezuela.
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza called the arrest “arbitrary” and tweeted that he had “taken all the necessary steps through diplomatic and legal channels to guarantee the rights” of Saab.
But Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido – recognized by 50 countries as the nation’s interim president – welcomed Saab’s arrest, saying at a press conference broadcast on Zoom that it showed there are “no untouchables.”
“They must understand at this time that justice comes, but it takes time. Sometimes it hurts to wait, but it arrives for all Venezuelans,” he said.
“This is not a country in the Middle East or Africa that is capable of protecting an internationally wanted criminal.”
The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, citing anonymous sources, said Saab was detained when his Venezuelan-registered plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel.
He and his Italian wife, Camilla Fabri, have also been under investigation in Italy for money laundering, according to the Italian press.