FILE PHOTO: Alex Saab Moran is seen in a booking photograph available to Reuters on October 17, 2021. Broward County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS
By Brian Ellsworth
MIAMI, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, cooperated with U.S. authorities for nearly a year beginning in 2018 by seizing funds and serving as a confidential source, according to a court document released Thursday. Wednesday.
Saab agreed to be an “active source” for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and then confessed to paying bribes to Venezuelan officials, US prosecutors said in a court document. In 2019, she was told she would face criminal charges if she didn’t turn herself in, according to the filing.
Attorney David Rivkin said in a statement that Saab only met with US officials to explain that their companies had done nothing wrong, adding that Venezuela was fully aware of their meetings.
The news is a setback for the Maduro government, which has defended Saab as a special envoy who helped him conduct business under the radar of US sanctions, measures intended to cause him to leave the government.
Saab was indicted in 2019 and arrested a year later while fueling his plane on the West African island of Cape Verde, which last year approved his extradition to the United States, a move Maduro’s government described as a kidnapping.
U.S. prosecutors say Saab, a Colombian-born businessman, siphoned around $350 million from Venezuela through the United States as part of a scheme that involved bribing Venezuelan government officials to obtain false import documents so he could secure payments. in dollars at a favorable exchange rate.
Saab has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Venezuelan Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors had asked that such filing remain sealed, arguing that Saab’s family could be harmed if the information was made available to the Maduro government. Judge Robert Scola ordered Wednesday that that presentation be unsealed.
Rivkin said in the statement that the release of the document “is nothing more than an attempt to harm the interests of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” and that Saab “remains a loyal citizen and diplomat of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”
Maduro’s allies have characterized Washington’s pursuit of Saab as one chapter in an “economic war” against Venezuela by the United States. They add that Saab had been granted Venezuelan citizenship and appointed a diplomat to negotiate aid and fuel shipments from Iran.
A 2016 Reuters investigation found that Saab was also the head of a small Colombian trucking company that unexpectedly beat out world oil industry leaders to land a multimillion-dollar project in Venezuela’s so-called Orinoco Belt, Venezuela’s largest crude reserve. of the world.
That deal was eventually shelved after protests from foreign oil companies.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth. Editing in Spanish by Vivian Sequera)