Alex Saab, close to Nicolás Maduro, appears in US court



The Colombian businessman Alex Saab, whom the United States points to as the presumed name of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, appeared today for the first time before a Miami court to be formally notified of eight allegations of money laundering allegedly stemming from corrupt deals with Caracas.

In a hearing via Zoom, Magistrate John O’Sullivan said Saab will remain stopped and set a new court hearing for November 1. The procedure occurs two days after the Saab extradition from Cape Verde, which further strained relations between Venezuela and the United States.

The businessman participated from the federal prison where he is detained. She wore neck-length dark hair, an orange camisole and prison pants, and her face was covered by a light blue mask.

After identifying yourself with your first and last name through a interpreter who translated into Spanish over the phone, Saab said he had chosen Henry Bell to represent him as a lawyer. His words were not heard in the audience, in which only the translator spoke for him. Saab remained alone, sitting behind a table.

After being extradited on Saturday, the Maduro government announced that suspended your participation in the dialogue process with the opposition, endorsed by the United States and that occurred in the capital of Mexico. Talks were due to resume on Sunday and the Venezuelan government had asked that Saab be brought to the dialogue table as one of its diplomats.

The opposition asked the day before the talks resume.

Shortly after the extradition came out, six US oil executives who had been under house arrest since April were returned to the headquarters of the political police in Caracas, where they had been detained after their arrest in 2017.

The accusations against Alex Saab

The prosecution accuses Saab of amassing a fortune through corrupt deals carried out on behalf of the Maduro government.

According to the charges, from approximately November 2011 to at least September 2015. Saab and another Colombian illicitly associated with other people to launder money obtained through corrupt businesses, that it was deposited in Venezuelan banks and in US bank accounts.

The accusations, which were filed in US courts in July 2019, indicate that both obtained a contract with the Venezuelan government in November 2011 to build affordable housing and took advantage of the favorable dollar exchange rate to deliver import documents of materials that never arrived to Venezuela. In order for those transactions to be approved, they allegedly bribed Venezuelan officials, according to US prosecution charges.

The US government alleges that some meetings on the bribe payments happened in Miami and that Saab and another Colombian transferred money to bank accounts in South Florida. As a result of these fraudulent deals, both transferred some 350 million Venezuelan dollars to accounts they controlled or had abroad. At least some of that money passed through the United States, according to prosecutors.

Saab, 49, spent 16 months under arrest in Cape Verde, where he was detained in June 2020.

In a letter that his wife read after being extradited, Saab said that he has not committed any crime and that he has nothing to collaborate with Washington.

At the hearing, prosecutor Kurt Lunkenheimer asked that Saab remain in detention, arguing that if he were released there would be a risk that he would escape.

Bell, Saab’s lawyer, said he had not had time to talk with his client yet and asked the judge to ask the Justice Department to facilitate a communication “as soon as possible.”

The judge explained to Saab that he had the right to a lawyer and that his statements would be under oath. He added that later it could be analyzed at a hearing whether or not he can be released on bail, something that his lawyer did not request for now.

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