Maduro ally Saab was a DEA informant before his arrest, records show | Economy News

Alex Saab, an ally of the Venezuelan president, agreed in 2018 to cooperate with the US drug agency, documents show.

Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, cooperated with US authorities for nearly a year from 2018 by confiscating funds and serving as a confidential source, according to an unsealed US court filing on Wednesday.

Saab agreed to be an “active source of law enforcement” for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and later confessed to paying bribes to Venezuelan officials, U.S. prosecutors said in the filing. . In 2019, they told him he would face criminal charges if he did not surrender voluntarily, according to the filing.

A Saab lawyer, David Rivkin, said in a statement that Saab only met with US law enforcement officials to explain that its companies had done nothing wrong, adding that Venezuela was fully aware of its engagement with these officials.

The news could be embarrassing for Maduro’s government, which has championed Saab as a special envoy who helped Venezuela’s government strike trade deals under the radar of US sanctions meant to force the ruling Socialist Party out of power. .

Saab was charged in 2019 and arrested in 2020 while refueling his plane in the West African island nation of Cape Verde, which last year approved his extradition to the United States – a decision that Maduro’s government described it as a kidnapping.

US prosecutors say Saab, a Colombian-born businessman, embezzled around $350 million from Venezuela via the United States in a scheme to bribe Venezuelan government officials to obtain fake import documents to guarantee payments in dollars at a favorable exchange rate.

Saab pleaded not guilty to the charge against him.

“The DEA and the government attorney specifically advised [Saab] in April and May 2019 that his failure to surrender to U.S. authorities would result in his indictment in the Southern District of Florida,” reads the filing, originally submitted on February 23, 2021.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors had asked that the case be kept sealed, arguing that Saab’s family could be harmed if the information were made available to Maduro’s government. Judge Robert Scola ordered Wednesday that the case be unsealed.

Rivkin, Saab’s lawyer, said in the statement that the release of the dossier “is nothing more than an attempt to harm the interests of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

“Alex Saab remains a loyal citizen and diplomat of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and will never do anything to harm the interests of the country and the people who have given him so much,” Rivkin wrote.

Maduro’s allies have characterized Washington’s pursuit of Saab as part of an “economic war” against Venezuela waged by the US government. They say Saab had obtained Venezuelan citizenship and was appointed as a diplomat to negotiate aid and fuel shipments from Iran.

A 2016 Reuters news agency investigation found that Saab was also the head of a small Colombian trucking company that unexpectedly beat out global industry leaders to land a multi-billion dollar project. in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt, the world’s largest crude reserve.

This agreement was finally abandoned after an outcry from foreign oil companies.

In 2020, the US government indicted Maduro, along with a dozen other top Venezuelan officials, for “narco-terrorism”, offering $15 million for information leading to his capture. The United States said Maduro and his associates colluded with the demobilized Colombian guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), “to flood the United States with cocaine”.

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