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Lebanese-Colombian en route to Iran arrested in West Africa

June 17, 2020 at 11:45 am

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) meets the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei during his visit in Tehran, Iran on 22 October 2016 [Supreme Leader Press Office/Anadolu Agency]

A Colombian man of Lebanese descent, said to be on trip to secure food and medicine supplies for Venezuela’s Maduro government, has been arrested in the Cape Verde islands off the coast of West Africa.

Alex Nain Saab Moran, 48, was detained on Saturday after the private jet he was travelling in from Venezuela touched down on the Cape Verde island of Sal to refuel before continuing its journey onto Iran.

Saab was only passenger removed from the plane, with the remaining travellers allowed to continue their journey to the Islamic Republic, according to a report by Reuters.

Local television channels showed Saab being escorted off the plane by two policeman, while wearing handcuffs.

Saab, a businessman who reportedly owns companies across the world in Colombia, Hong Kong, Turkey, UAE, Mexico, Panama and the United States, was arrested after an Interpol red notice was issued for him.

READ: Venezuela receives COVID-19 medical aid from Iran

The Colombian tycoon stands accused of laundering money in Venezuela, through his international companies, and was indicted by the US in July 2019 on similar charges.

Saab is believed to have been travelling to Iran to secure a deal to purchase oil from the Islamic Republic in exchange for Venezuelan gold, to circumvent US sanctions imposed on both states.

The businessman, along with Venezuela’s new Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, who is also of Lebanese descent, helped negotiate the deal with Iran last month, Bloomberg reported.

Under the deal, which took effect in May, Iran has sent five tankers carrying a total of 1.5 million barrels of oil to Venezuela.

The oil imports are intended to offset the US embargo on Venezuela, which has squeezed the south American state, creating hours-long lines outside petrol stations.

The Trump administration, which is seeking to topple the Maduro government, has threatened a response to the oil deal which circumvents US sanctions. However, according to sources cited by Reuters, Tehran plans to continue sending tankers to Venezuela.

READ: Iran was ready to strike if US stopped Venezuela-bound tankers

The report quoted an Iranian trader familiar with the deal as likening the policy to shipments to Syria, and claiming the move “is a long-term strategic decision made by the state to expand influence”.

According to a local court ruling late on Sunday, Saab can now be held in Cape Verde for 40 days awaiting an extradition request by the US.

Saab is expected to fight extradition attempts after Venezuelan authorities claimed he was travelling as an “agent” of the state to secure food and medicine supplies and termed his arrest an “arbitrary detention”.

The Colombian’s Miami-based lawyer, Maria Dominguez, also denied any wrongdoing and stated Saab was a “food business entrepreneur”.