Court Orders Maduro Financier Be Released by Cape Verde

A West African court ordered Cape Verde’s government to free Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman close to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and halt plans to have him extradited to the U.S.

The Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice found the authorities on the Atlantic Ocean island nation carried out Saab’s arrest before a so-called Red Notice had been issued by Interpol.

“We found his arrest by the criminal police of Cape Verde was arbitrary and subsequent detention throughout the period until today was illegal,” Justice Edward Amoako Asante said Monday at the Abuja-based tribunal. “Cape Verde should immediately release the applicant from their custody and immediately stop all processes to extradite him.”

The ruling may complicate efforts by Washington to crack down on officials accused of corruption in Venezuela. U.S. officials believe Saab holds numerous secrets on how Maduro and his inner circle allegedly looted hundreds of millions of dollars from state coffers.

Saab, 49, has been indicted by a U.S. federal court in Florida on federal money-laundering charges related to bribing Venezuelan officials. He has denied the charges through his lawyers.

U.S. sanctions have severely restricted access by both Venezuela and Iran to the global financial network. Cash linked to Caracas often gets trapped in foreign accounts due to restrictions on money wiring. With Maduro’s allies in Moscow, Beijing and Ankara refraining from large financial deals, Saab’s business arrangements with Tehran emerged as a lifeline last year.

Saab was detained June 12 when the private plane he was traveling on from Venezuela to Iran made a fuel stop on the Cape Verdian island of Sal. Prior to his arrest, Saab was tapped to orchestrate deals that would exchange Venezuelan gold for Iranian gasoline.

Authorities in Cape Verde said they made the arrest in response to an Interpol Red Notice, spurred by the money-laundering charges. Following his arrest, Venezuela identified Saab as its diplomat on a “humanitarian mission” to Iran, an argument Cape Verde’s Barlavento Court of Appeal has rejected.

Saab’s lawyers have unsuccessfully challenged his detention on the international arrest order, but got the Cape Verde Supreme Court in January to move him from jail to house arrest on the island.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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