Saab, a Colombian businessman close to Maduro, was extradited to the United States from Cape Verde earlier on Saturday. Saab was arrested in the African country in June 2020 following a red notice from Interpol over his indictment in the United States.
He faces money laundering charges in Florida related to his activity as a government contractor in Venezuela. He also faces charges of money laundering and fraud in his native Colombia.
His extradition, which follows a long legal battle in Cape Verde, was confirmed to CNN on Saturday by Saab’s legal defense team.
The extradition means Saab is now one of Maduro’s closest confidants to be questioned by US officials. If he were to cooperate, he could significantly advance the Justice Department’s case against Maduro, who faces narco-terrorism and drug trafficking charges in New York City.
The men detained in Venezuela, collectively known as “CITGO 6”, are former executives of CITGO Petroleum Corporation who were arrested in 2017 in Caracas for embezzlement and had been under house arrest since May. They deny the charges.
The family of one of the six, JosÃ© Pereira, posted a video on Twitter, filmed by him shortly before he was arrested, saying he and his family were “very worried” about what would happen to him next. The extradition of Saab.
Following Saab’s extradition, the Venezuelan government accused the United States of “kidnapping” a Venezuelan “diplomat,” according to a Venezuelan government statement. Last month, Saab was named a member of the Venezuelan government’s negotiating team for talks in Mexico with the country’s opposition. Following the extradition, the negotiation process was suspended, according to the Venezuelan government’s chief negotiator, Jorge RodrÃguez.
The U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and the Norwegian Ambassador to BogotÃ¡, who negotiates government-opposition talks, both declined to comment.
It is not known where the CITGO 6 detainees were taken on Saturday.
Security forces told them they were being picked up from their home in Caracas for medical checks, a relative told CNN on Saturday.
In the video posted by his family after the detention, Pereira said: “We are here recording this video because right now we and our families are very worried.”
He added that the Venezuelan government had already retaliated against CITGO 6 in 2019 when it revoked their house arrest.
“If we are again placed in police custody, it would be in the worst possible conditions given that the SEBIN is now managed by the Ministry of Prisons. I wish to record this testimony because I am very worried,” he said. stated in the video. .
Veronica Vadell, daughter of CITGO 6 member Tomeu Vadell, told CNN her father texted the family to warn them he was arrested.
âThe fact that Saab was in the United States before our father was an absolute disgrace,â she said.