It all starts with a non-existent arrest warrant and the role of Interpol. Venezuelan Ambassador Alex Saab has been held hostage for 447 days on the Cape Verdean island of Sal and the issue of his transfer to the United States has reached the Constitutional Court of Cape Verde.
The decision was expected a week ago, but Cape Verde’s Constitutional Court has given no explanation for the delay.
Local observers suggest that, given the high domestic public interest in the case, its high international profile and its potential impact on Cape Verde’s regional and pan-African standing, the court is keen to reach a unanimous decision.
The Constitutional Court prides itself on being the “guardian of the Constitution” and has cultivated over the years the image of being “the People’s Court” and, in this context, the very high public interest in the case, coupled with the strong support and sympathy for Venezuela’s special envoy Alex Saab, is unlikely to have gone unnoticed.
That Alex Saab is the ambassador appointed by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is surely no longer a matter of discussion.
The fact that President Fonseca, Prime Minister Ulisses and Attorney General Landim refuse to use the word ambassador when referring to Alex Saab does not change his status. Recently, Russia, China and Iran have publicly denounced Saab’s continued detention and referred to his status as a legitimate diplomat.
Recognition of Saab’s ambassadorial status would be a blow to Attorney General Landim and also to the Justice Department, which has spent a lot of time and money trying to get Saab to the United States. It would also raise many questions about how Saab was arrested in the first place and the role Interpol played in his arrest.
Attorney General Landim has admitted that neither Cape Verde nor Interpol received a copy of the arrest warrant at the time of Saab’s arrest. The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) Court of Justice also highlighted this fact on March 15, 2021, when it ruled that Alex Saab’s arrest and detention were unlawful and that he should be released immediately.
The Ecowas Court, while calling for an end to the extradition process Saab faces, noted that the arrest and detention violated numerous international laws, as well as those of Cape Verde. The decision is all the more compelling because it was handed down by Judge Januaria Costa, a former Cape Verdean Minister of Justice and, one would assume, very knowledgeable about Cape Verdean law.
That ruling by the Ecowas Court, which was reaffirmed on June 24, is a terrible indictment of the conduct of Prosecutor Landim and Interpol. A review of the records of the Ecowas Court of Justice leaves a clear impression that Interpol’s own internal procedures were not properly followed when the decision was made to issue the red notice.
Questions must also be asked about the interaction between the DOJ and Interpol’s Head of Legal Affairs, who is on secondment to Interpol from the DOJ, and why everything possible was apparently done to facilitate the DOJ’s needs, but nothing was done to protect the interests of Alex Saab and Venezuela.
Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, who is one of Africa’s leading human rights lawyers, and Alex Saab’s lead lawyer at Ecowas, commented, “Interpol has some of the best law enforcement professionals in the world. I cannot accept that it occurred to anyone in Lyon to wonder, when a request was received from Washington to issue a red notice against a very high-level Venezuelan official, whether the request might be politically motivated.”
He went on to say that “it sets a dangerous precedent, as it appears that the notice was indeed used to promote a political agenda. It is also clear that Interpol’s Legal Affairs Department did not attempt to contact NCB Caracas to check whether there was any reason why a red notice against Alex Saab should not be issued. Had Interpol done so, it would have been informed of Alex Saab’s ambassadorial status and no red notice could have been issued.”
Falana, recognized worldwide as one of the prime movers in establishing the human rights mandate of the ECOWAS Tribunal, added that “according to evidence presented by Cape Verde itself before the ECOWAS Tribunal, Interpol was more intent on issuing the red notice in ‘record time’ than following internal procedures.”
“These procedures expressly prohibit the issuance of any Interpol notice against a diplomat and prevent Interpol from becoming involved in a politically motivated matter. Interpol should authorize an independent investigation into its role in the arrest and detention of Alex Saab between June 12 and June 29, 2020″, he emphasized.