Nicolás Maduro’s envoy Alex Saab faces federal money laundering charges in Miami

Álex 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.

Saab, 49, arrived in the U.S. on Saturday to face money laundering charges. It’s a U.S. federal case that has outraged Sergey Mélik-Bagdasárov, the Russian ambassador to Venezuela.

“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 on Monday.

After Saab was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, Maduro also accused the U.S. of kidnapping Saab and Cabo Verde of torturing him. During a televised address, Maduro described Saab as Venezuela’s special envoy in Africa.

Maduro 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. Maduro suspended negotiations with Venezuela’s opposition 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.

Camilla Fabri, the wife of Colombian businessman Alex Saab who has been recently extradited to the U.S., reads a letter sent to her by her husband, during a demonstration demanding his release, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) (Ariana Cubillos/)

“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. Prosecutors claim there were about $350 million in transfers out of Venezuela through U.S. banks.

Investigators reported Saab profited from an illegal bribery scheme in Venezuela that was related to the government’s low-income housing units and the government-controlled exchange rate.

People hold signs with the image of businessman Alex Saab who has been extradited to the U.S., during a demonstration demanding his release, in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos) (Ariana Cubillos/)

The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Saab on July 25, 2019, accusing him of orchestrating “a vast corruption network” that “enabled” him 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. 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.

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