Mexico City, Mexico, September 8, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Cape Verde's Constitutional Court ruled that Venezuelan government envoy Alex Saab should be extradited to the United States.
In a 190-page ruling issued on Tuesday, the three-judge panel dismissed the defense’s motion that lower instances and the Supreme Court had erred in allowing unconstitutional practices in Saab’s proceedings.
In response, the defense team expressed that the “matter was not closed” and the issue would need to be revisited by the country’s Appeals Court.
High-profile Nigerian attorney Femi Falana, a counsel for the defense, called the ruling "constitutional suicide" in a statement. He told Bloomberg that the judgment was influenced by “political considerations” and that Saab’s lawyers would ask for a “review of the judgment.”
It was not immediately clear how the African country’s institutions would respond as appeals of rulings by the Constitutional Court are not available.
According to Cape Verde law, Saab could be extradited to the United States to face trial in Florida as early as five days after the court’s ruling has been made official. He is wanted on money laundering charges and could face a life sentence if convicted.
Simultaneously, legal proceedings are also taking place in the US, with a judge at the 11th Circuit Appeals Court recently granting the prosecution an extra month to respond to a defense appeal challenging the legality of the extradition request.
The Colombian-born businessman was first detained on an Interpol warrant in June 2020 during a stopover in the African archipelago. Caracas said its envoy was on his way to Iran to negotiate trade agreements on behalf of the Nicolás Maduro government and was protected by diplomatic immunity.
The Cape Verde Supreme Court rejected that argument in a March ruling, confirming the legality of Saab’s extradition to the US. That ruling was appealed to the Cape Verde Constitutional Court as a measure of last resort.
The Supreme Court decision contravened a ruling by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice that concluded that Saab’s arrest had been “illegal” and called for his immediate release and the payment of reparations.
Tuesday’s ruling by the Constitutional Court also determined that the ECOWAS Court of Justice had no jurisdiction on the matter, despite Cape Verde belonging to the West African economic union.
The ECOWAS regional court found that Cape Verdean authorities arrested Saab before the Interpol arrest warrant was issued, a key argument put forward by Saab’s lawyers. His legal team also emphasized in their arguments before the Constitutional Court that there is no mutual extradition treaty between Cape Verde and the US.
The court’s judges unanimously rejected these and other arguments presented by Saab’s legal team and found that Saab’s diplomatic status was not recognized by the Cape Verdean government.
In his statement to VOA, Cape Verdean lawyer Germano Almeida said that the court’s ruling did not make any sense in light of the fact that it had found violations of the country’s constitution. He stressed that the defense had not “thrown in the towel” and would continue the legal fight.
Venezuelan legal expert Laila Tajeldine also claimed on Twitter that the ruling was full of “illegalities” that undermined the court’s credibility.
Saab, who has been described as being close to President Nicolás Maduro, is said to be in poor health and was recently relocated to the capital of Cape Verde for treatment.
The Colombo-Venezuelan magnate’s profile grew in recent years as the Venezuelan government sought to counter US-led sanctions, with Saab’s companies reportedly securing a number of government contracts over the years in the housing, mining and food sectors.
Washington has accused Saab of running a “vast corruption network” and profiting from overpriced import contracts for Venezuela’s CLAP program, which delivers subsidized food to a reported seven million families.
In July 2019, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Saab, business associate Alvaro Pulido and thirteen foreign-based firms allegedly owned or controlled by them and used to circumvent US sanctions. Shortly after, the two businessmen were indicted by a Florida court on charges of laundering US $350 million, but no evidence was publicly disclosed.
The CLAP program has been targeted by US authorities as part of a wide-reaching sanctions program aimed at ousting the Maduro government. Measures have included an oil embargo, secondary sanctions, a clampdown on swap deals and the seizure of a number of Venezuelan state assets held abroad.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.