A Colombian man of Lebanese descent will be extradited to the US to face money laundering charges, a Cape Verde court ruled on Monday.
Special envoy to Venezuela Alex Nain Saab Moran, 48, will now be extradited to the US to face prosecution for money laundering offences related to a bribery scheme allegedly sanctioned by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Under the scheme, Saab, who has often been described as President Nicolas Maduro’s front man, and his associate Alvaro Pulido Vargas were awarded a government contract to construct low-income housing units, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported.
The contract allowed the pair to take advantage of the government-controlled exchange rate and obtain low priced US dollars by submitting fake import documents for goods they never imported.
According to the indictment, Saab and Vargas then bribed government officials to approve the forged documents.
With the scheme, the pair were able to transfer approximately $350 million out of Venezuela, through American banks, to their overseas accounts.
Saab’s lawyers have indicated they will appeal the extradition ruling in Cape Verde’s Supreme Court of Justice.
Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned the ruling saying in a statement: “There is no doubt that the detention of Special Envoy Alex Saab is part of the obsessive siege campaign, orchestrated by the agonizing outgoing government of the United States against Venezuela, with the aim to inflict more suffering to the Venezuelan people and to destabilize its institutions and internal order.”
The 48-year-old was detained last June on an Interpol red notice when his private jet touched down on the West African archipelago to refuel.
Saab was reportedly on a trip to secure Iranian food and medicine supplies for Venezuela.
Observers, however, claim Saab was travelling to Iran to secure a deal to purchase oil from the Islamic Republic in exchange for Venezuelan gold, in an effort to circumvent US sanctions.
Saab, along with Venezuela’s Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami who is also of Lebanese descent, reportedly helped negotiate a deal to purchase Iranian oil in exchange for gold earlier this year.
The first Iranian tankers reached Venezuela in May and were greeted by Maduro himself on arrival.
Most recently, a fleet of ten tankers carrying Iranian oil were sent to Venezuela in December to help the isolated nation weather the winter period, Al Jazeera reported.