MIAMI ( Associated Press) — Venezuela’s socialist government has been trying for two years to remove a businessman from the U.S. criminal justice system after he was on a covert mission with his ally, Iran, after routine stops to refuel him. He was detained on a US arrest warrant during. in Africa.
But the campaign to secure Alex Saab Moran’s release suffered a setback when US prosecutors produced documents questioning defense evidence supporting his claims that he had diplomatic immunity.
Saab called for the criminal charges filed for money laundering in Miami to be dropped, but prosecutors’ response questioned the timing and manner in which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appointed Saab as the government’s special envoy. was.
According to prosecutors, US officials presented a copy of Saab’s alleged diplomatic passport, which contained a photograph and signature matching a non-diplomatic passport issued nearly two years later, indicating possible “forgery.”
In addition, prosecutors obtained a printed copy of the Venezuelan Official Gazette dated April 26, 2018 from the United States Library of Congress, which contradicts the electronic version of the same special edition, number 6,373, submitted by the defense and Which allegedly shows the appointment of Saab. As a special envoy in presidential decree.
Miami prosecutors Kurt Lunkenheimer and Miami’s Alex Kramer said in their response, “This fact significantly raises the question of whether the Maduro regime actually appointed Saab Moran as its special envoy, and suggests instead that It was a concoction.” Washington.
Saab’s lawyer declined to comment.
At the time Washington presented the arrest of Saab during a refueling stop in Cape Verde in 2020 as a major milestone in its efforts to topple Maduro. The Trump administration has portrayed the Colombian-born businessman as a staple for Maduro, who benefits from state contracts as hunger spread across the South American country.
In Venezuela, the previously unknown Saab became a person of great importance. Government-sponsored marches, books and documentaries portray him as a “hijacking” victim of the American “empire”, whose sole crime was to help the oil nation see illegal US sanctions.
The legal battle is further complicated by evidence that prior to his arrest, Saab was booked as an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration and provided the agency with information about corruption in Maduro’s inner circle. Had it.
In their latest charges, prosecutors allege that Saab met with US law enforcement officials six times between 2016 and 2019, and confiscated $12.5 million in contract profits that he allegedly made with Saab. accepted. In those meetings, Saab never said he was a Venezuelan diplomat, he said.
Prosecutors allege that the Maduro government also failed to mention any diplomatic terms while opposing Saab’s detention. The first three letters from then Foreign Minister Jorge Arreza to officials in Cape Verde refer to Saab as an “agent” or “representative” of the Maduro government and refer only to the non-diplomatic passport when he was detained.
The existence of an alleged diplomatic passport was not mentioned until months later. Prosecutors said that document has the exact same image and signature as the non-diplomatic passport, which was issued nearly two years later.
“If Saab Moran was indeed the Maduro regime’s ‘special envoy’, Arreza and others in the Maduro regime would have referred to him by that title immediately upon his arrest. They would have referred to his diplomatic passport rather than his usual Venezuelan passport number. But None of those missiles did,” the US allegation said.
Prosecutors also noted discrepancies in the Official Gazette of Venezuela that allegedly recorded a presidential decree appointing Saab as special envoy. Although the appointment was in an electronic copy provided by Saab’s lawyers, it did not appear in a hard copy of the same edition kept in the Library of Congress. Saab’s name is not even in the version hosted on the website of the Supreme Court of Venezuela.
Nevertheless, the key to Saab’s defense is that at the time of his arrest he was carrying letters from Maduro and other officials who allegedly recognized him for the Islamic Republic, as well as official documents showing that he was carrying some oil. was authorized to trade stores. Gold from Venezuela in exchange for much-needed fuel.
The defense also pointed to emails from the Interior Department and a book by former US Defense Secretary Mark Esper that show the Trump administration was aware of Saab’s sensitive conversations on behalf of the Maduro government. His lawyers say it is a tacit acknowledgment of his diplomatic position.
The charges continued to cross over before a hearing in December in which Judge Robert Skola will study evidence on Saab’s diplomatic status.
The 50-year-old businessman was charged in 2019 with eight money laundering offenses related to a bribery scheme that allegedly embezzled $350 million from state contracts to build affordable housing for the Venezuelan government.
While the arrest was initially billed as a victory for the Trump administration, the case has become a major obstacle to the Biden administration’s efforts to repair ties with Caracas, as the West seeks new sources of crude. doing. Loss of Russian exports following sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.