Alex Saab lawyers ask US courts to uphold diplomatic immunity, warn of ‘dangerous’ precedent

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Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 6, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The defense of Venezuelan government special envoy Alex Saab has begun a legal battle in a US appeals court to have his diplomatic immunity recognized and obtain an immediate release.

A first hearing took place on Wednesday before a three-judge panel in Miami, with no clear indication as to whether a decision is expected in the coming days. If Saab’s immunity is denied, the trial for an alleged conspiracy to launder money would begin Oct. 11 in the Miami federal courthouse with Judge Robert Scola. A preparatory session is scheduled for June 10.

Saab’s lawyers have built a defense case around the violation of the Colombian-Venezuelan businessman’s diplomatic status as special envoy to Iran when he was arrested in Cape Verde in 2020 on the orders of the US government.

During Wednesday’s session, Saab’s legal team presented evidence of its diplomatic status, including the designation of special envoy to Iran dated April 9, 2018 and signed by the then Venezuelan foreign minister. , Jorge Arreaza. A diplomatic note from the Iranian embassy in Caracas supporting the request was also submitted to the judges. These documents, as well as others relating to the case, are available online.

According to the memo to the Iranian authorities, Saab’s diplomatic role was to “provide humanitarian goods and services for the [Venezuelan] government social programs,” especially food, medicine, fuel, and machinery parts. Before his arrest, the special envoy had visited Tehran on several occasions.

In a recent interview, senior counsel David Rivkin explained that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations “requires absolute inviolability for ambassadors and special envoys”, which means that Saab cannot be “arrested, charged, extradited or prosecuted”.

As part of the defense argument, Rivkin claimed the Saab case could set a “dangerous” precedent for international diplomacy. “Which is essential. If the United States violates the diplomatic immunity of ambassadors and special envoys of other countries, I guarantee that someone will do the same with American diplomats,” he said.

“We hope to have good results in recognizing Alex Saab’s diplomatic immunity and securing his immediate release,” Rivkin concluded.

For its part, the US prosecutor’s argument focuses on recently leaked documents regarding Saab’s alleged cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since June 2018 to provide information on “bribes and crimes”. committed in the name of Caracas. The allegations were strongly refuse by the lawyers of the Venezuelan envoy.

“The sole purpose of meetings with the [US] The Ministry of Justice was to confirm that neither Saab nor any company associated with it had done anything wrong,” read a statement issued on February 16.

Nicolás Maduro’s government has also reiterated that Saab is a trusted trade ally and has been granted diplomatic immunity to help secure essential imports under US sanctions, playing a vital role in trade deals between Iran and Iran. Venezuela. Caracas has repeatedly accused Washington of “kidnapping” the Venezuelan envoy in a politically motivated case.

Saab’s extradition also had political consequences that derailed Norwegian-brokered negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the US-backed opposition held in Mexico City. However, in early March, President Maduro announced the reactivation of the dialogue process after receiving a high-level US delegation expected to discuss possible sanctions relief.

Currently, Saab is being held in a prison in Miami. On June 12, 2020, the Venezuelan envoy was arrested during a refueling stop in Cape Verde while on his way to Iran to conclude agreements to import food, medicine and fuel. According to his lawyers, he spent months in prison in solitary confinement, without medical treatment and endured several other forms of torture.

Cape Verdean authorities have ignored two rulings by the Court of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) ordering the release of Saab after finding a number of irregularities, including the lack of an Interpol warrant in the time of arrest. On June 8, 2021, the African nation also ignored a directive from the United Nations Human Rights Committee to suspend Saab’s extradition to the United States.

After a long legal battle, on September 8, 2021, the Constitutional Court of Cape Verde gave the green light for the extradition and the government envoy Maduro was flown to Florida on October 16, without the knowledge of his lawyers and his family.

In the United States, Saab faced eight charges of money laundering allegedly using state contracts to import goods for Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission (GMVV) and the government-subsidized CLAP food program.

On November 1, 2021, Judge Scola dismissed seven of eight money laundering charges, leaving only one count of conspiracy to launder money. Two weeks later, Saab pleaded not guilty.

Saab’s legal fight to enforce its diplomatic immunity has dominated the international solidarity scene with the #FreeAlexSaab campaign staging protests around the world. On Tuesday, Venezuelan social movements held a rally in the largest popular district of Caracas, Petare, calling for the freedom of the Venezuelan special envoy.

The women-led grassroots organization CODEPINK also organized a demonstration Saturday in Washington DC demanding that the Biden administration release Saab. “Evading sanctions is not a crime, sanctions are the crime!” exclaimed the US-based activists.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz of Caracas.

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