MIAMI – After Álex Saab was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused the U.S. of kidnapping him and Cabo Verde of torturing him.
Saab, a Colombian businessman of Lebanese descent, wore an orange jumpsuit when he made his initial court appearance through Zoom on Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. O’Sullivan.
The U.S. money laundering case against Saab, 49, outraged Sergey Mélik-Bagdasárov, the Russian ambassador to Venezuela, who released a statement on Monday.
“Our energetic and resounding protest to the kidnapping of Álex Saab, Special Envoy of the President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro,” Mélik-Bagdasárov wrote in Spanish.
During a televised weekend address, Maduro described Saab as Venezuela’s special envoy in Africa. He also said diplomatic immunity through the Vienna Convention should have applied when Cabo Verde officials arrested Saab on June 12, 2020, on a red Interpol notice.
Saab and Venezuelan attorneys fought his extradition to the U.S. until Friday. In retaliation for the extradition and the charges against Saab, Maduro suspended negotiations with Venezuela’s opposition in Mexico and jailed a group of U.S. oil executives who had been on house arrest.
Saab’s 27-year-old wife, Camilla Fabri, a model who was born in Italy and whose property was seized in Rome as part of an international corruption case probe, stood on stage during a government rally on Sunday in Caracas. She read a letter Saab allegedly sent her.
“I don’t plan to lie to favor the U.S,” Saab’s letter said, according to Fabri. “I have not committed any crime, in the U.S. or in any country.”
U.S. federal prosecutors indicted Saab on July 25, 2019, for conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering. There were about $350 million in transfers out of Venezuela through U.S. banks and to overseas accounts, according to Juan “Tony” Gonzalez, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Investigators reported Saab profited from an illegal bribery scheme in Venezuela that included the maneuvering of the government’s low-income housing program’s contract work and the government-controlled exchange rate.
The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Saab on July 25, 2019, accusing him of orchestrating “a vast corruption network” that also “enabled” Saab and Maduro to “profit” from the government’s food subsidy program.
Special agents with Homeland Security and FBI Miami assisted DEA Miami during the investigation in the money laundering case. Saab’s alleged co-conspirator Alvaro Pulido, a Colombian who is also known as German Rubio, is also facing charges in the case.
Judge O’Sullivan scheduled Saab’s plea hearing for Nov. 1 at the C. Clyde Atkins U.S. Courthouse in Miami.