People gather in support of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and Venezuelan government envoy who was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. on charges of money laundering, in Caracas, Venezuela October 17, 2021. REUTERS/Leonardo Ferdandez Viloria
October 18, 2021
(Reuters) – Alex Saab, a businessman accused of laundering money on behalf of Venezuela’s government, will be arraigned in Florida federal court on Monday, in a case that pits the United States against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
U.S. prosecutors in 2019 charged Saab in connection with a bribery scheme linked to Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate. The United States also sanctioned him for allegedly orchestrating a scheme that enabled him and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to profit from a state-run food distribution program.
Saab will appear via videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. O’Sullivan 1 p.m. EDT (17:00 GMT) in Miami.
Venezuela on Saturday said it would suspend negotiations with the opposition that were set to resume over the weekend, following Saab’s extradition.
It also revoked the house arrest of six former executives of refiner Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA, two sources and a family member told Reuters.
The former Citgo executives, who were arrested in November 2017 after being summoned to a meeting at PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, were taken from their homes to one of the headquarters of the intelligence police, two sources said on Saturday.
The group is made up of five naturalized U.S. citizens and one permanent resident. The U.S. government has repeatedly demanded their release.
Saab, a Colombian national, was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped to refuel in Cape Verde.
The country’s courts approved his extradition following a lengthy legal battle.
Venezuela’s government has accused the United States of kidnapping Saab, whom they describe as a diplomatic envoy who was en route to Iran to negotiate supplies of fuel and food that have been interrupted by U.S. sanctions.
Washington in 2019 created a broad sanctions program meant to force Maduro from power.
The sanctions have crippled Venezuela’s capacity to export fuel and limited its fuel imports, worsening an economic crisis driven by years of hyperinflation and steady deterioration of the country’s oil industry.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)