Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seeks to add a new member to his team negotiating in Mexico with his political opponents – an ally jailed in Cape Verde awaiting extradition to the United States for money laundering
Alex Saab will be immediately integrated into the government delegation, the President of the National Assembly Jorge Rodriguez, who heads the Venezuelan team, announced on Venezuelan state television on Tuesday.
Saab’s appointment is unlikely to have an immediate impact on its legal issues. A week ago, Cape Verde’s Constitutional Court unanimously voted to dismiss his appeal from an earlier court ruling approving his extradition to face federal charges in Miami.
But the Maduro government’s decision to redouble its grip on the fugitive risks straining dialogue efforts that have already encountered enormous obstacles after years of bitter street fighting in Venezuela.
There was no immediate comment from the Venezuelan opposition.
Saab, a businessman from Colombia, was arrested in June 2020 when his private jet made a refueling stopover in Cape Verde en route to Iran in what the Venezuelan government called a mission humanitarian.
U.S. officials believe he holds many secrets about how Maduro, the president’s family and key aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars from government contracts amid widespread famine in oil-rich Venezuela.
Maduro’s government protested his arrest as illegal, claiming Saab was a diplomatic envoy and therefore enjoys immunity from prosecution while on official mission.
The talks that began a month ago in Mexico aim to resolve the long-standing political dispute in that South American country. The sessions are sponsored by Norway, Russia and the Netherlands playing a supporting role.
As part of the dialogue effort, the opposition – which, with the support of the United States, refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Maduro’s administration – has agreed to participate in the regional elections scheduled for later this year.