Maduro ally appears in court to face corruption charges

Photo: Ariana Cubillos – AP

 

A businessman who prosecutors say was a major conduit for corruption by Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle appeared for the first time in Miami federal court Monday after a weekend extradition that has further strained relations between the U.S. and Venezuela’s socialist government.

By AP News – Joshua Goodman

Oct 18, 2021

Alex Saab’s legs shook nervously while seated as he waited, handcuffed and in an orange jumpsuit, for the start of the hearing, which took place via Zoom with more than 350 journalists, gawking opponents of Maduro and members of Saab’s family in attendance.

Saab’s extradition to the U.S. from Cape Verde, where he was arrested 16 months ago, has already ricocheted far and wide.

Only hours after Saab was placed on a Department of Justice aircraft on Saturday, Maduro’s government suspended negotiations with Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition. It also threw back into jail six American oil executives it accuses of corruption. They had been under house arrest in another politically charged case marked by allegations of wrongful detention.

The Maduro government has labelled Saab a diplomatic envoy and has spared no effort to free the Colombian-born businessman, who was arrested on a U.S. warrant in the African archipelago while making a fuel stop en route to Iran.

On Monday, it was joined by ally Russia, whose ambassador in Caracas tweeted his “most energetic and categorical protest against the kidnapping” of Saab.

Saab, 49, raised his bushy eyebrows but was largely silent as magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan, through an interpreter, informed him that he was being charged with eight counts of money laundering. The judge set another hearing in two weeks where Saab will have the opportunity to enter a plea.

Saab, was indicted in 2019 on money-laundering charges for allegedly bribing Venezuelan officials and falsifying import documents to pocket more than $350 million from a low-income housing project. On the same day as his indictment, he was sanctioned by the Trump administration for allegedly utilizing a network of shell companies spanning the globe — Turkey, Hong Kong, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates — to hide windfall profits from overvalued food contracts.

But Saab’s connections extend much deeper.

Saab, 49, raised his bushy eyebrows but was largely silent as magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan, through an interpreter, informed him that he was being charged with eight counts of money laundering. The judge set another hearing in two weeks where Saab will have the opportunity to enter a plea.

Saab, was indicted in 2019 on money-laundering charges for allegedly bribing Venezuelan officials and falsifying import documents to pocket more than $350 million from a low-income housing project. On the same day as his indictment, he was sanctioned by the Trump administration for allegedly utilizing a network of shell companies spanning the globe – Turkey, Hong Kong, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates – to hide windfall profits from overvalued food contracts.

But Saab’s connections extend much deeper.

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