(Reuters) – A Colombian businessman detained in Cape Verde in June was on a mission to Iran as a particular envoy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to barter gasoline and humanitarian provides on the time of his arrest, his legal professionals advised Reuters.
Authorities in Cape Verde detained Alex Saab when his personal jet stopped to refuel simply after eight p.m. on June 12, appearing on a global arrest warrant for cash laundering prices filed final yr in the US.
U.S. prosecutors accuse Saab of bribing Venezuelan officers to benefit from the state-controlled trade fee and transferring $350 million in illegally obtained funds to abroad accounts.
Saab, who stays in a Cape Verde jail as he fights extradition to the US, has denied the costs. His legal professionals have referred to as the U.S. prices “politically motivated.”
The Madrid-based legislation agency representing Saab in Cape Verde solely supplied Reuters with particulars of his Iran visits and relationship with the Maduro authorities, together with an account of his arrest.
“Particular Envoy Saab is the important thing determine for the U.S. of their plan to overthrow Nicolas Maduro and maintain suffocating the Venezuelan folks,” mentioned a press release from Saab’s protection crew, led by former Spanish choose Baltasar Garzon.
Saab’s legal professionals mentioned he made an earlier go to to Iran in April, when he persuaded Iranian officers to ship oil tankers loaded with gasoline together with planes carrying refinery supplies, to Venezuela to ease a gasoline scarcity disaster.
He additionally secured medical provides and meals to assist Venezuela put together for the coronavirus pandemic, which threatened to overrun the nation’s decrepit well being system, the legal professionals mentioned.
Requested about U.S. officers’ feedback that Caracas paid Tehran in gold for the shipments, Saab’s legal professionals mentioned the objects have been “paid for alongside customary worldwide phrases of commerce utilizing Venezuela’s personal assets.”
Washington has imposed robust sanctions on commerce in Venezuelan oil and gold lately in an effort to take away Maduro, whose 2018 reelection was broadly thought of a sham. America has additionally put sanctions on Iran.
Venezuela’s authorities, which mentioned after Saab’s arrest that he was appearing as its “agent” to safe humanitarian provides for the coronavirus pandemic, didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Saab’s authorized crew is interesting a call by a Cape Verde court docket to extradite him, arguing that he has diplomatic immunity and wouldn’t face a good trial in the US as a consequence of “unlawful proof.”
In a letter Saab wrote to Cape Verde’s prime minister earlier in August, he mentioned Venezuela would supply his authorities “extra alternatives” if authorities there launched him. “I may also help Cape Verde greater than the US will do in 100 years,” Saab wrote within the letter, seen by Reuters.
Saab’s arrest was a dramatic flip for the person who had risen from a textile firm proprietor in Colombia to turn into a strong middleman for the Venezuelan authorities, thought of a dictatorship by most Western nations.
Because the Trump administration tightened sanctions, Saab has leveraged his worldwide contacts to assist Maduro barter his remaining assets to acquire assist from allies like Iran.
Saab’s relationship with the Venezuelan authorities started in 2011, when he secured a contract to construct public housing, his legal professionals mentioned. The U.S. indictment towards Saab alleges he made “corrupt funds” in reference to this deal.
In 2018, Maduro named Saab a particular envoy to “collaborate” with overseas governments “to seek out options to Venezuela’s complicated scenario,” his legal professionals mentioned.
When the coronavirus pandemic started spreading by way of Latin America early this yr, the legal professionals mentioned Venezuela’s overseas ministry entrusted Saab with “the accountability of buying enormously wanted humanitarian assets.”
Throughout his April go to to Iran, Saab advised Iranian officers that Venezuela wanted shipments of gasoline, as U.S. sanctions had restricted the Maduro authorities’s skill to import materials wanted to supply it.
The Iranians agreed to ship eight oil tankers, together with 16 flights coordinated by Iran’s Mahan Air, his legal professionals mentioned.
Iran’s authorities didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.
Flight monitoring companies confirmed 16 Mahan Air flights arriving in Venezuela in late April and Could. On the time, a senior PDVSA official mentioned the flights have been bringing chemical substances wanted within the refining course of to make gasoline.
Iran additionally despatched 5 tankers carrying gasoline to Venezuela beginning in Could, which helped to ease briefly the shortage of gasoline. Nonetheless, the US this month seized 4 cargoes of Iranian gasoline certain for Venezuela, the place gasoline shortages are as soon as once more worsening.
A prime Iranian official concerned within the talks for these shipments advised Reuters the Mahan Air planes returned to Iran with gold bars price $200 million as a part of the “commerce.”
In April, some 7 tonnes of gold was withdrawn from Venezuela’s central financial institution, folks acquainted with the operations mentioned, although they didn’t know its vacation spot. The Maduro authorities has repeatedly bought off its gold reserves lately to acquire helpful overseas foreign money.
Extra reporting by Belén Carreño in Madrid, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, and Mayela Armas and Corina Pons in Caracas; Enhancing by Brian Ellsworth, Dan Flynn and Daniel Wallis