Venezuelan Government to Suspend Negotiations With Opposition Over Extradition of Alex Saab to US
23:07 GMT 16.10.2021 (Updated: 04:08 GMT 17.10.2021)
Earlier on Saturday, Alex Saab, a Colombian-born Venezuelan national with business ties to a Venezuelan food distribution and subsidies program, was placed on a US Department of Justice-chartered flight to the US, where he faces money laundering charges. Saab had remained in Cape Verde for some sixteen months after he was detained by authorities.
National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez announced on Saturday that Venezuela would be suspending this weekend's upcoming negotiations with the opposition after the same-day extradition of Saab, a 49-year-old envoy of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Rodriguez, who heads the Venezuelan government's negotiating team, said that officials would not be attending the talks that had been scheduled to begin on Sunday, according to Reuters. The National Assembly president emphasized that the breakdown in negotiations comes as a protest against "brutal aggression" aimed at Saab.
Flight Aware data showed that an aircraft owned by the US Department of Justice took off from Cape Verde on Saturday at around 4:53 p.m., local time. As of this article's publication, the flight has not landed.
The Venezuelan government stated in a Saturday memo that the extradition of Saab "also attempts to derail the development of the negotiations" between the Venezuelan government and the opposition in Mexico City, Mexico.
Maduro's government has described the extradition as a "kidnapping" and has vowed to take further action.
In June 2020, Saab's flight from Venezuela to Iran was refueling when he was arrested in Cape Verde on charges of spearheading a money laundering scheme in Venezuela.
The charges, filed in a Florida court, claim that Saab consistently identified as an operator who assisted in securing trade deals for Maduro.
The US claims that the envoy violated US sanctions against Venezuela and profited from overvalued contracts associated with his food distribution and subsidies program, dubbed 'Local Committees for Supply and Production' (Spanish acronym CLAP).
CLAP has assisted with feeding more than six million Venezuelan families (or over 60% of the country's population), according to government officials.
Lawyers for Saab have characterized the US charges as "politically motivated," adding that Saab, at the time of his June 2020 arrest, was en route to negotiate the shipment of fuel and other humanitarian supplies to Venezuela.
© AP Photo / Ariana CubillosResidents help to unload and stack boxes of basic food staples, such as pasta, sugar and flour, provided by a government food assistance program, in Caracas’ slum of Petare, Venezuela, Thursday, April 30, 2020.
Residents help to unload and stack boxes of basic food staples, such as pasta, sugar and flour, provided by a government food assistance program, in Caracas’ slum of Petare, Venezuela, Thursday, April 30, 2020.
© AP Photo / Ariana Cubillos
Additionally, the Venezuelan government has maintained that those involved in the arrest of Saab are in violation of international law and norms.
"In violation of all norms and procedures, Mr. Saab was detained in an irregular manner by Interpol authorities in Cape Verde on June 12, despite the fact that at the time there was no active Red Notice in the system of that international police coordination body," Maduro's government said in a June 2020 memo. "After his arbitrary detention, on June 13, Interpol issue[d] an extemporary capture order to justify the detention, without taking into consideration the diplomatic immunity granted by international law to an agent of a Sovereign State."
Nevertheless, it was confirmed that the extradition of Saab could proceed after Cape Verde's constitutional court rejected a previous court ruling which claimed that Saab's detention was illegal because the Interpol red notice for his detention was issued a day after his arrest.