A Venezuelan diplomat who was arrested in Cape Verde in 2020 has been extradited to the US and is expected to make his first court appearance on Monday.
Alex Saab, a Colombian-born Venezuelan businessman, was arrested in Cape Verde in June 2020 while on his way to Iran. Saab was sent to Iran to negotiate shipments of medicine and other essential goods that Venezuela struggles to import due to crushing US sanctions.
The trade relationship between Iran and Venezuela — two countries under heavy sanctions — has angered Washington and resulted in the US outright stealing shipments of Iranian gas that were bound for Venezuela.
The extradition of Saab appears to be another extreme example of the US enforcing its unilateral sanctions. He has been indicted for “money laundering,” a term the US uses to describe trade with sanctioned individuals and entities.
Since 2017, sanctions implemented by the US have had a devastating impact on Venezuela’s civilian population. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, between 2017 and 2018, US sanctions contributed to 40,000 deaths in the country.
Western media has portrayed Saab as a “financier” and “ally” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. But in reality, Saab was working as an envoy for the government and should have diplomatic immunity under international law. But since the US doesn’t recognize the government of Venezuela, Washington doesn’t recognize its envoys.
Since January 2019, the US has recognized Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president despite the reality that Maduro holds the office. The recognition came with a failed coup attempt and increased sanctions over the years. Venezuela reacted to Saab’s extradition by suspending talks with the US-backed opposition in Mexico.
Reports said after the extradition was announced, Venezuela detained five former US Citgo executives who were previously on house arrest. The former Citgo employees have been accused of embezzlement.