Venezuelan businessman Mr Alex Saab is being held in detention in Cape Verde, victim of political persecution and facing extradition to the US for having brokered commercial deals that, in the face of the brutal US blockade against Venezuela, would bring food, medicines, fuel and other desperately needed items to the South American nation.
Saab, a special envoy and ambassador to the African Union for Venezuela, was on a humanitarian mission flying from Caracas to Iran to procure food and petrol for Venezuela’s CLAP food assistance programme.
He was detained on a refuelling stop in Cape Verde and has been held in custody ever since June 12 2020.
Saab’s “crime,” according to the US government, which ordered the imprisonment, was money laundering.
The truth is that Saab conducted perfectly legal international trade, but his circumventing the US sanctions — designed to prevent relief to the Venezuelans — is considered by Washington to be a crime.
The US does not have legal jurisdiction over a Venezuelan ambassador in Cape Verde on his way to Iran.
US extraterritoriality grossly contravenes international law, numerous international protocols, treaties, and even the UN Charter itself.
The legal fig leaf for what amounts to a kidnapping was an Interpol “red notice,” which was not issued until a day after Saab’s arrest and was subsequently dropped.
Saab denounced being tortured and pressed “to sign voluntary extradition declarations and bear false witness against my government.”
That is, US rogue behaviour has nothing to do with money laundering and everything to do with “regime change” in Venezuela.
The Swiss government, after a two-year investigation into Saab’s transactions with Swiss banks, concluded on March 25 2021 that there was no evidence of money laundering.
The real reason Saab is being persecuted is because he is serving his country’s interest rather than that of the US.
Saab’s case has raised concern in Africa and internationally where campaigns, demonstrations and influential voices have demanded his immediate release.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) ruled against Cape Verde’s detention of Saab and in March 2021 asked for his immediate release.
High-profile lawyer Baltasar Garzon, who also assisted in Julian Assange’s defence, worked with Saab’s legal team.
None of these efforts have been enough to sway the US extradition demand or, unfortunately, to prevent Cape Verde from buckling under US pressure.
Saab’s attorney in Cape Verde, Geraldo da Cruz Almeida, has explained the absurdity of the politically motivated legal case against his client.
Saab has violated neither Cape Verdean nor Venezuelan law.
Moreover, Saab’s diplomatic status should have given him immunity from arrest.
Such a position still holds even if one considers the fact that the US does not recognise Saab’s diplomatic status.
US President Joe Biden, following Donald Trump’s line, maintains the fiction that the self-proclaimed, Trump-anointed Juan Guaido is “interim” president of Venezuela.
To Cruz Almeida, the US indictment is a politically motivated case.
“Any serious judge who analyses the case properly would come to the conclusion that the evidence presented is not sound; that it is not a money laundering crime but the fabrication of a money laundering crime — a crime that Mr Saab did not commit.”
Nigerian lawyer Femi Falana at a recent webinar on the case said: “The United States instigated the Swiss general prosecutor to open a file and investigate the allegations of money laundering…”
The Swiss general prosecutor concluded there was no material evidence to support the allegation of money laundering charges against Saab.
“A country that subscribes to the rule of law would have ceased, would have closed the chapter, the file, but the United States of America, which is politically motivated as far as this case is concerned, has continued to harass and intimidate Cape Verde,” Falana stated.
Ranking 175th and 185th among the countries of the world in terms of geographic area and economic size, respectively, resource-poor and dependent on tourism and remittances from abroad, the Republic of Cape Verde is vulnerable to US strong-arm tactics.
Shortly after Saab’s arrest, the US gifted $1.5 million to private-sector entities in Cape Verde on top of some $284m total US aid in the last 20 years.
Thus despite the fact that Cape Verde is a founding member of Ecowas Court, it refuses to recognise its jurisdiction on the Saab case, even though the court’s rulings are binding on all members of the body.
Thus, although the Ecowas ordered Saab’s release on March 15 2021, Cape Verde’s judiciary and executive refused to comply and have gone ahead with the extradition trial.
US government sanctions have particularly targeted Venezuela’s state oil company that has substantially contributed to the sharp decline of Venezuela’s economy, have dealt a crippling blow to its oil industry thereby negatively affecting Venezuela’s capability to generate electricity, agricultural production and generate income from oil exports to fund social programmes and import vital necessities.
This has had deadly consequences for ordinary Venezuelans: between 2017 and 2018 alone over 40,000 ordinary Venezuelans died from the direct impact of the sanctions. US sanctions constitute a crime against the humanity of 30 million Venezuelans.
Venezuela has the largest certified reserves of oil in the world (frantically coveted by the US’s gravely declining economy) which explains the empire’s systematic destabilisation since the coming to office of Hugo Chavez as president in 1999.
The Bolivarian government’s robust assertion of national sovereignty over the nation’s natural resources has unleashed the empire’s wrath, that of its European accomplices and its regional pawns.
The flagrantly fake “money laundering” case against Saab is one more instance of the US’s rogue behaviour, trampling upon international law and the sovereignty of any nation that may be in the way of its unspeakable objectives.
The US case against Saab is not only illegal, unfounded and disgraceful but, according to Montreal-based international human rights lawyer John Philpot, raises dangerous precedents in terms of extraterritorial judicial abuse, violation of diplomatic status and even the use of torture to extract false confessions.
Saab is not only totally innocent of the US trumped-up charges of money laundering, but the US government does not have any legal jurisdiction whatsoever over Venezuela or Cape Verde.
Therefore Saab should be immediately and unconditionally freed in line with the Ecowas ruling of March 15 2021.
A petition campaign for his release is being organised since by defending Saab we are defending the international rule of law against illegal US sanctions.