Venezuela Slams Interpol Arrest of CLAP Contractor in Cape Verde

Colombo-Venezuelan Alex Saab was detained on a Washington-issued arrest warrant en route to Iran, where he reportedly looked to negotiate food and medicine import contracts.

Alex Saab is a Colombo-Venezuelan citizen of Lebanese descent and was arrested en route to Iran on Friday. (Semana)
Alex Saab is a Colombo-Venezuelan citizen of Lebanese descent and was arrested en route to Iran on Friday. (Semana)

Mérida, June 15, 2020 ( – Venezuela’s foreign ministry has demanded the immediate release of a high-level government contractor detained by Interpol in Africa’s Cape Verde.

Alex Nain Saab Moran, 48, was arrested on the archipelago island while on a technical stop-over in his private jet on Friday. He was allegedly en route to the Islamic Republic of Iran to negotiate food import contracts on behalf of the government’s subsidised CLAP food program, as well as medicine and other imports needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Cape Verde and the US do not possess a mutual extradition treaty, the process is reportedly already “underway,” with the African country citing reciprocal UN treaties against organised crime as the legal framework for the move.

In the US, Saab faces legal action in Florida, New York and Washington-based courts in addition to Treasury Department sanctions. He also faces lawsuits in Colombia, where authorities seized eight of his properties last Tuesday. The properties had a combined value of US $9.7 million and included a US $7.7 million mansion in Barranquilla.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced Saab’s arrest as “illegal,” claiming that no Interpol warrant existed at the time of detention. He also accused the French-based international policing organisation of violating “the diplomatic immunity which international law concedes to an agent of a sovereign government” and vowed to pursue all diplomatic and legal channels to secure the businessman’s release.

CLAP food boxes normally include some domestically produced goods but also a range of imported items including pasta, powdered milk and flour. (@ClapOficial / Twitter)

Saab is a Colombo-Venezuelan businessman of Lebanese descent who allegedly owns companies in Colombia, Hong Kong, Turkey, UAE, Mexico, Panama and the United States.

Since 2009, both the Chavez and Maduro governments have reportedly granted him and his firms a number of multi-million dollar public import contracts in the housing, mining and food sectors. These contracts include a 2011 deal worth US $685 million to import prefabricated housing kits as part of Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission, assorted construction contracts worth US $159 million between 2012 and 2013, a 2016 CLAP food supply contract with the local government of Tachira worth US $340 million, and a similar national CLAP contract worth US $425 million in 2017.

While details of the more recent government contracts are still unknown, Saab is widely considered to be a key player in the Maduro government’s strategy to bypass Washington’s 2019 general embargo, which threatens secondary sanctions against foreign governments or firms trading with Caracas in a bid to cripple the country’s import-dependent economy.

Most recently, the Trump administration has set its sights on tankers transporting Venezuelan crude but US agencies have also targeted oil-for-food deals with Mexico and crude-for-fuel agreements with Iran.

Saab was himself sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in July 2019 alongside his business partner Alvaro Pulido and thirteen firms allegedly owned or controlled by them.

At the time, Washington accused the men of running a “vast corruption network” profiting from overpriced contracts with the CLAP food program, which benefits an estimated six million of Venezuela’s poorest families. Both Saab and Pulido were formally accused of laundering US $350 million by a Florida federal court in the same month, but no evidence against the men was made public.

Two of Saab’s brothers and business partners, as well as a further 16 companies, were subsequently sanctioned by Washington in September, and in December, the businessman was hit with a travel ban by the eighteen signatories of the Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Pact (TIAR).

Edited by Lucas Koerner from Santiago de Chile.