LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A protracted legal battle over the extradition from Cape Verde to the United States of a businessman close to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro comes to a head next week when the West African country’s Constitutional Court is due to rule on the case.
Alex Saab was arrested when his jet made a refueling stop on the small island chain, formerly a Portuguese colony, on a June 2020 flight to Iran.
U.S. officials believe Saab holds numerous secrets about how Maduro, the president’s family and his top aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts amid widespread hunger in oil-rich Venezuela.
Saab is fighting extradition. His lawyers argue that he has diplomatic immunity because he was acting as a special envoy for Venezuela when he was detained in Cape Verde.
José Pinto Monteiro, Saab’s lead counsel in Cape Verde, said Friday there are two possible outcomes when the Constitutional Court sits on Aug. 13.
Either the judges throw out Saab’s appeal and the extradition goes ahead, or they accept that there are unconstitutional elements in the case and send it back to a lower court to correct them, Pinto Monteiro told a press conference via video link.
Cape Verde’s Supreme Court ruled last March that the extradition could proceed, and the Constitutional Court appeal is Saab’s last hope.
Saab’s international legal team argues that the extradition has a political motive.
Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Saab in 2019 on money-laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government that was never built.