A US judge is preparing to decide whether Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman close to the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro, had diplomatic immunity when he was arrested in 2020 at the request of the United States for alleged money laundering, when the hearings in the case ended on Tuesday.

Saab’s defense requests his release, alleging that he was on a diplomatic mission as a special envoy from Caracas to Iran when he was detained in Cape Verde in June 2020, during a stopover on his plane.

To prove his point, Saab’s lawyers presented letters from the Venezuelan and Iranian governments to federal judge Robert N. Scola mentioning Saab’s mission to obtain oil deals with Tehran.

US prosecutors denied those arguments. According to them, the fact that the US government does not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s executive prevents Saab, 50, from being considered a diplomat.

And even if that legitimacy were recognized, they added, the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations would not apply in this case, since the businessman was not carrying out a permanent diplomatic mission at the time of the arrest.

Judge Scola announced that he will render his verdict before the end of next week. During the hearing, the magistrate seemed to agree with the accusation when he recalled that Washington does not recognize the Maduro government.

The trial of Saab for money laundering depends on his decision.

The US Attorney’s Office accuses the businessman and his partner, the Colombian fugitive Álvaro Pulido, of transferring 350 million dollars obtained illegally in Venezuela to launder them through the United States.

According to that accusation, both illegally profited and created a bribery network, taking advantage of a contract signed with the Venezuelan government in November 2011 to build housing for low-income people.

The Prosecutor’s Office also affirmed in February that Saab had been an informant for the United States anti-drug agency (DEA) and had provided information on bribes paid to Venezuelan officials.

Saab, whom Washington considers a figurehead for Maduro, arrived in Miami in October 2021 from Cape Verde while his extradition to the United States was being processed.

Saab’s arrest and extradition angered the Venezuelan government, which then suspended the dialogue it had had with the opposition since August 2021 in Mexico in retaliation. Those talks resumed last November.

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