Alex Saab, the alleged front man of Nicolás Maduro and an influential Chavismo business operator, has pleaded not guilty on Monday to the charge of conspiracy to launder money in the United States, for which he risks 20 years in prison. The hearing was held in a federal court in Miami (Florida). A couple of weeks ago, a southern state judge dismissed seven of the eight money laundering charges against the Colombian billionaire businessman.
The Prosecutor’s Office accuses him of the laundering of 350 million dollars as a result of transactions carried out in 2011 for the purchase of materials in Ecuador with the supposed objective of building homes in Venezuela. The operation was carried out through shell contracts and shell companies and not a brick was raised with the money, according to investigations. When Saab made a transfer for this business to accounts in American banks, the first alert jumped that ended up in handcuffs in the United States.
Saab’s lawyer, Neil Schuster, addressed the court as a representative of the “diplomat of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” before the declaration of innocence. A small group of supporters, according to the AP, shouted “Free, free Alex Saab!” out of court during the process. The businessman waived his right to have the indictment read in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, according to court records.
The accusation only affects Saab and not his partner and right-hand man implicated in the case, the Colombian Álvaro Pulido, who is still at large. The businessman was detained since June 12, 2020 in Cape Verde, where he had been under house arrest since January. In the middle of last October, Washington managed to extradite him from the African country to put him on trial under the condition that he would only be charged with one charge to comply with the laws of Cape Verde related to the maximum prison sentence -20 years-, as reported The prosecutors.
Nicolás Maduro’s regime has described the US maneuver as a “kidnapping” of Saab “in complicity with the Cape Verdean authorities, who tortured him and arbitrarily held him prisoner for 491 days, without an arrest warrant or due process”, a information they attributed to the businessman’s family. In response, Caracas suspended the negotiations it was having with the opposition, with Mexico as an intermediary.
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