CARACAS (AP) – The Venezuelan government added Alex Saab, a businessman close to President Nicolás Maduro, to its team that is in dialogue with the opposition in Mexico on Tuesday, who was arrested last year in Cape Verde, where he faces an extradition process to United States on alleged money laundering charges.
Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Assembly of Venezuela and head of the delegation of the Maduro government in the negotiations, indicated that the incorporation of Saab will be referred to the Kingdom of Norway, which acts as a facilitator of the dialogues, despite the legal situation that the businessman lives in the African nation.
Rodríguez commented that Saab – whom Caracas appointed Venezuela’s plenipotentiary ambassador to Africa – was detained “illegally” in Cape Verde in June 2020. He said that his arrest occurred when his private jet made a stopover to refuel at the A former Portuguese colony en route to Iran, in what the Venezuelan government has described as a humanitarian mission.
Rodríguez stressed that Saab was incorporated “with full functions” as a delegate “before the Social Committee that was approved in the Partial Agreement for the care of the people of Venezuela, signed in Mexico.”
In a statement released later on Tuesday, the opposition delegation ratified “its commitment to advance the negotiation agenda” and announced that incorporating Saab into the dialogues “corresponds to a strategy of defense of the regime before the judicial process between two countries with separation of powers and democracy, whose jurisdictional bodies follow an extradition process ”against him.
The opposition delegation recalled in the statement that it is not the first time that one of the parties has implemented a similar strategy.
Opponents cited as a precedent the case of the Colombian guerrilla known by the alias of “Simón Trinidad”, whom the former FARC rebel group “incorporated, in order to free him, into the Colombian peace negotiation delegation. It was unsuccessful, it could never be incorporated. “
In the letter, the allies of the opposition Juan Guaidó also asked the Norwegian facilitators to guarantee “compliance by the delegation of the regime with the agreed reserve rules that govern the process. Turning this process into a war of microphones or debate in the media does a lot of damage to the negotiation and our delegation has always avoided doing it in compliance with those norms ”.
“We are not going to be distracted from our central agenda of the process in Mexico,” added the statement, highlighting the need for “a Comprehensive Agreement that returns democracy to us and the possibility of getting out of the immense social, economic and political crisis that affects us. to all”.
The Constitutional Court of Cape Verde unanimously rejected Saab’s appeal filed after another court in that African country approved his extradition five months ago. It was Saab’s last hope to avoid a trial in the United States.
At the moment it is unknown if Saab had any other legal recourse or when it would be put on a plane bound for US soil.
Saab’s defense lawyers argue that the businessman was a diplomatic envoy of the Venezuelan government and that in that capacity he has immunity from legal action during his official mission.
It is not clear if the appointment will materialize at some point given the legal situation facing the Colombian businessman, which depends on other political and legal actors outside the Venezuelan government.
Rodríguez, however, asserted that Saab as a diplomat is “perfectly qualified to take part as a full member of the delegation.”
The Colombian businessman would also be part of the commission in charge of demanding the return of assets of the Venezuelan State, which are under the control of the opposition after the sanctions imposed by the United States.
The suspension of economic sanctions and the unfreezing of Venezuela’s assets abroad are some of the central topics of discussion for the Maduro government, although it is the administration of US President Joe Biden that would have the last word in this regard.
Dialogues in Mexico between government delegates and opposition groups allied to Guaidó resumed on September 3. It is a process that, in addition to Norway, is supported by the United States, the European Union and Canada, among other countries, which have expressed their willingness to review the sanctions against the Maduro administration in the event that progress is made.
The first round came three weeks after the signing of a memorandum of understanding on August 13 that marked the start of the process, which will last at least six months.
Federal prosecutors in Miami formally prosecuted Saab in 2019 on money laundering charges in connection with an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $ 350 million from a Venezuelan government project that would build housing for people of low income.
The government of now former US President Donald Trump made the extradition of Saab a priority and even sent a Navy boat to the African archipelago at the time to keep an eye on the detainee.
The Associated Press journalist Fabiola Sánchez contributed to this report from Mexico City.