The fate of Alex Saab keeps the Government of Venezuela in suspense, which has deployed a campaign in his defense this year. The mysterious Colombian businessman, detained in Cape Verde and requested for extradition by the United States, was a kind of “super minister” in the Bolivarian Republic, with more functions than any other member of the Cabinet, says journalist Gerardo Reyes in a telephone interview ( Cúcuta, 63 years old), who has been investigating the man who has been identified as a financial operator and alleged front man for Nicolás Maduro for years.
Washington estimates that the dividends that Saab obtained from the businesses it did with the Venezuelan government’s endorsement total more than a billion dollars, says Reyes, who deepened his investigations when the businessman himself filed a defamation lawsuit rejected by the courts in 2017. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the director of the research team of the Univisión network, in the United States, has just published his book Alex Saab (Planet), for which he conducted 120 interviews.
“Alex Saab’s friends cannot explain how such an ordinary guy with modest aspirations and without any passion, apart from love for his children, became the financial jackal of the Bolivarian revolution,” Reyes writes about a character besieged by the debts that after a few years returned to his native Barranquilla by private plane. “The devious horsetail merchant swam through the stormy waters of Venezuelan corruption and the useless US embargo until he reached an irreversible point where the survival of the Venezuelan state depended on his furtive improvisations.”
Question. Why is Saab so important to the Government of Nicolás Maduro?
Answer. Alex Saab He managed to become an efficient and effective operator so that the Government of Venezuela could mock the economic sanctions of the United States, and at the same time become a billionaire.
P. You have defined him as a “super minister” to whom to turn to solve the problems that Chavismo was encountering. What were its functions?
R. If milk was lacking in Venezuela, they would dial Saab’s cell phone. If fuel ran out, they called him in to resolve the situation. And given the shortage of foreign exchange, they proposed to him that he devise a very direct model for the sale of gold bullion, and then he would go with his plane, or hire other planes, and sell gold in Turkey. He was the man who solved everything and had more functions than any other Venezuelan minister, or at least he was busier.
P. How did that man, who was described as a businessman “neither fu, nor fa” in Barranquilla, to become the “financial jackal” that solves the problems of Chavismo?
R. It is a combination of real and magical things. I explain how this Colombian senator, Piedad Córdoba, is his confirmation godmother in the Bolivarian revolution, the one who brings him before the Venezuelan government circles. Maduro – and Hugo Chávez when he was alive – wanted her to be president of Colombia. But they confirmed it, and here comes the esoteric part, through a Santeria rite in which Simón Bolívar’s official medium tells her, on behalf of the Liberator, that she is going to be president. According to my sources, Saab becomes very important because the Government, and specifically Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, identifies in him an ingenious guy who is motivated by challenges to seek other formulas, fast and efficient, to make fun of the Government. from the United States.
P. You also dedicate extensive sections to two Colombian characters who explain Saab’s achievements. The first is precisely the former senator Piedad Córdoba. How would you define that relationship?
R. It was the process of a desperate man, who is overwhelmed by gossip that he is broke in Barranquilla, who leaves the city with $ 500 and becomes practically the aide-de-camp of Piedad Córdoba. From that moment on, he first recovers the money that they had frozen in Cadivi [el organismo que administraba las divisas en Venezuela], almost 30 million dollars, and later it begins to open paths in the government of Chávez, and later in that of Maduro. They like each other very well, they respect each other, they consult each other. So much so that he stays in one of the suites assigned to her by the Venezuelan Government as the great intermediary between Chávez and Uribe, in the midst of those stormy relations between the two presidents.
P. The other is the lawyer Abelardo de la Espriella, very close to uribism in Colombia. How did you manage to keep Saab out of prisons?
R. Through a series of maneuvers, some of which went unpunished. The most serious of all, having passed the information of an arrest operation to Saab and members of his family in Barranquilla, on the eve of it happening. It was one of the interventions for which Saab should be most grateful, since everything was prepared not only by the Colombian authorities, but also by the United States.
P. If De la Espriella resigned from representing Saab, why does that relationship seem key to you?
R. I have not seen the resignation of De la Espriella to the representation of Saab. He has said it, we asked him from Univisión when we made publications related to the subject, but the day Saab was included in OFAC [Oficina de Control de Activos Extranjeros del Departamento del Tesoro de Estados Unidos, encargada de las sanciones internacionales en el ámbito financiero] and that he was prosecuted, De la Espriella’s office issued a press release the next day in defense of Saab. So I think the relationship continues until very late, I don’t know how it is now. His best client was Alex Saab, and at the same time he wrote columns saying that Maduro had to be killed, from which his best client got money.
P. You say there is no conclusive evidence that you are Maduro’s front man. Does the United States have a strong case against Alex Saab?
R. The indictment is like the tip of an iceberg, but it does not provide further details or allow us to see the cards that the United States will play with if Saab goes to trial. It is an indictment that in any case does not reflect the gravity, seriousness or defiance of Alex Saab to the United States Government. From that point of view, it is not proportionally solid compared to the number of questions that have been made about Saab’s activities. The reason why I say that there is no definitive proof that he is a front man is because the Venezuelan prosecutor who baptized him that way [Luisa Ortega] she did not give me any conclusive evidence that could prove that nickname or that crime that she was attributing to him. I don’t know if the United States has that proof, but within what I looked for, Saab seems more interested in multiplying its fortune than in playing a front man.
P. The extradition requested by Washington keeps Venezuela in suspense, to the point that Caracas has deployed a campaign in its defense. Do you think it will end up in the United States?
R. Yes. The United States in these cases plays at being patient, laborious, and wants the entire official process in Cape Verde to be carried out. That officially. But meanwhile he is exerting very strong pressure, such as threatening Saab with also accusing his eldest son. That should weigh on Saab’s decisions, combined with the fact that I see no legal grounds for not extraditing him.
P. He says that Saab has already had conversations with the DEA
R. Both before and after being charged. The first directly with DEA agents in three different places: Bogotá, Italy and the Bahamas. And then through an emissary who sent a message saying that if President Trump received Saab or one of his emissaries, he could win the election with the information he was going to receive. That gives an idea of how much Saab knows, or thinks he knows, about the secrets of the Maduro government.
P. Saab fulfilled his dream of having a private plane. Where is your fortune stored?
R. It is scattered. There are signs that it passed through Switzerland, there are investments in France, Spain and Italy. He managed to have things in Panama. I think that for now it is a bank fortune, not invested, that he kept in different financial institutions.
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