Who is Alex Saab and what do they accuse the businessman linked to the Maduro government extradited to the United States?

Who is Alex Saab and what do they accuse the businessman linked to the Maduro government extradited to the United States?

In November 2011, the then presidents of Venezuela and Colombia, Hugo Chávez and Juan Manuel Santos, held a meeting for history.

Chavéz sang, Santos managed to open the door of a peace process with the guerrillas that would give him the Nobel Peace Prize and a Colombian businessman signed a social investment agreement that would be the origin of one of the most notorious alleged corruption schemes of the recent times in Venezuela.

That businessman is called Alex Nain Saab Morán.

And in June 2020 he became news again, after he was arrested in Cape Verde, an African archipelago where the private plane in which he was traveling made a stopover to refuel on its way to Caracas from Tehran.

The reason for that capture was that Saab was accused, among other things, of money laundering and was requested by the US justice.

But above all, he is pointed out not only by the United States, but by other countries including Colombia, of being one of the main front men of different corruption networks within the Venezuelan government.

And after a year and a half of legal resources from both his defense and the government of Venezuela – he was appointed a member of his diplomatic team – to avoid extradition, this Saturday the Cape Verde authorities put him on a plane bound for the United States, to face the accusations against him there.

At the time of his capture, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry condemned through a statement on Twitter the arrest that it described as “arbitrary” and “irregular” and considered that it was added “to the actions of aggression, blockade and siege of the United States” against that Latin American country.

And during the conversations that are being carried out between the Venezuelan opposition and the Chavista ruling party in Mexico, with the intermediation of the Government of Norway, the government of Nicolás Maduro had set the presence of Saab as one of the members as one of the conditions of the official team.

In fact, when the news of his extradition to the United States was known, the Venezuelan government decided not to continue in the round of negotiations.

Jorge Rodríguez, a senior government official and head of the Chavista delegation at the dialogue table, was the one who confirmed the withdrawal.

Rodríguez has assured that the extradition of Saab means “an unacceptable aggression that violates international legal principles and that contradicts the constructive spirit that must prevail in all political negotiations”.

But who is this Colombian businessman who for many is a key element to know the levels of corruption that exist within the Chavista regime in Venezuela?

From Colombia to the Clap

Saab, 49, was wanted by Interpol, accused of crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering and illicit enrichment in nine countries.

If found guilty, he could be sentenced in the United States to up to 20 years in prison.

And is that the investigation that led to his arrest in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean comes from the United States, where federal prosecutors in Miami accuse him of money laundering in the project that was signed in the presence of Chávez and Santos that November 28.

In addition, the US government accuses Saab of serving as Maduro’s front man in a wide network of drug trafficking, dollar laundering and the fraudulent award of millionaire official contracts.

That November 28 was one of the few times that the world saw the face of this Lebanese-born Barranquilla who is often described as a low-profile man and who met the Chavista leadership thanks to his friendship with the Colombian politician Piedad Córdoba close to Chávez and a key part of the peace process in Colombia.

The US government accuses Saab of fraudulent businesses through the CLAP program, which delivers boxes of food to needy families in Venezuela.
The US government accuses Saab of fraudulent businesses through the CLAP program, which delivers boxes of food to needy families in Venezuela.

Presented at the bilateral meeting as the legal representative of the Global Construction Fund, a Colombian company, Saab would be in charge of importing from Ecuador and Colombia prefabricated materials for the Great Housing Mission, the Chavista project that claims to have built 2.6 million houses for families humble.

At that time, the price of oil was still high, Chávez began a presidential campaign that skyrocketed public spending, and Venezuela was not yet suffering from the economic crisis that since 2013 has reduced its economy by almost half.

The US authorities assure that the houses in charge of Saab were not built and, if they did, it was at cost overruns.

According to Armando.Info, a Venezuelan journalistic investigation portal, Saab received US $ 159 million from the Venezuelan government to import housing materials between 2012 and 2013.

But it only delivered products for the equivalent of US $ 3 million, according to Venezuelan journalists who had to go into exile after said report.

Saab was one of the entrepreneurs who benefited from the exchange control system known as Cadivi, which delivered foreign currency at preferential rates that could then be resold on the illegal market.

Saab’s defense, among which is the controversial Colombian lawyer Abelardo de la Espriella, close to Uribism, assured that there is no nexus between the Barranquilla and the Ecuadorian subsidiary of the Global Construction Fund that carried out the alleged crimes.

“My client is an entrepreneur in the food business,” Saab’s lawyer, María Domínguez, told the agency. Bloomberg Recently.

To Maduro’s “front man”

Indeed, another of the contracts that Saab signed with the Venezuelan government, already with Nicolás Maduro as president, was intended to supply the Venezuelan people.

By then, 2016, basic food shortages became common in Venezuelan supermarkets, a consequence, according to Maduro, of an economic war hatched from the United States and Colombia to overthrow socialism.

Alex Saab is accused of being a front man for Nicolás Maduro.
Alex Saab is accused of being a front man for Nicolás Maduro.

The government’s strategy to face this “war” was to centralize the importation and distribution of basic foods under the scheme of the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP).

Each Venezuelan registered in this scheme partially organized by the Armed Forces would receive a box with rice, chicken and oil, among other things, imported by government contractors. Saab was one of those contractors.

In May 2018, journalistic investigations revealed that Saab and another Colombian businessman, Álvaro Enrique Pulido Vargas had benefited from millionaire contracts with the Maduro government in CLAP.

In July 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against Saab and Polished, whom he accuses of having laundered up to US $ 350 million that they allegedly defrauded through the exchange control system in Venezuela.

According to former Venezuelan prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former ally of Chávez and today a critic of the Venezuelan government, the Colombian operated as a front man for a Maduro company in these businesses.

According to US authorities, Saab used a network of shell companies in countries such as Panama, Colombia, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Hong Kong to hide the illicit proceeds from those food import contracts.

When the investigations into those companies advanced, amid the wave of financial sanctions from the US to Venezuelan officials, Saab moved its companies to Turkey, according to Armando

At that time Maduro was about to sign agreements with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the exchange of food for exploration and mining in southern Venezuela, nest of one of the largest gold reserves in the world.

And behind those businesses, according to the US authorities, there is also the name of Alex Nain Saab Morán.

On all these issues, Saab must, from this weekend, explain to the US authorities.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.