MIAMI ( Associated Press) – A Colombian businessman accused by the United States of being a key to President Nicolas Maduro became a DEA ally in 2018 and an “active source” of information about bribes paid to Venezuelan officials, according to documents became. made public on Wednesday.
Alex Saab, who is accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from corrupt deals with the Maduro government, as part of a collaboration the Drug Enforcement Administration (known as the DEA) received through those actions. Transferred over a million dollars. Agreements with US officials that included several meetings with agents and prosecutors in Colombia and Europe.
However, according to prosecutors, after Saab missed the May 30, 2019 deadline to convert himself in Florida and face charges, the United States stopped treating him as an accomplice.
The information was revealed after a heated federal court hearing, in which Saab’s defense urged Judge Robert Scola to keep the information a secret because the physical safety of Saab’s family in Venezuela could be at risk if Maduro’s government knew it. Is.
Attorney Neil Schuster said, “If the Venezuelan government finds out what this man has provided, I have no doubt that there will be retaliation against his wife and children.” “I think it would create a situation where your family would be imprisoned, harmed or physically harmed.”
US officials have portrayed Saab as a close ally of Maduro, who profited from multimillion-dollar contracts after paying bribes. Venezuela, on the other hand, says Saab was one of its diplomats on a humanitarian mission en route to Iran when its plane was intercepted while it was stopping for refueling in Cape Verde.
The US Prosecutor’s Office accused Saab of amassing more than $350 million in assets through businesses for which he may have paid bribes to Venezuelan officials and forged documents to obtain contracts to build affordable housing. would have paid.
Saab, 49, pleaded not guilty in November and his lawyers argue he is exempt as a diplomat. He is in custody at a federal prison in Miami.
Dressed in a beige prison uniform and mask, the businessman approached the audience in handcuffs and handcuffs. He looked serious, his salt and pepper hair neatly pulled back into a small bun, and made no statement.
The judge briefly ordered the public out of the courtroom as both sides argued whether to make public two documents prosecutors filed a year ago when Saab was trying to block his extradition from Cape Verde. Were were The documents that the judge eventually ordered to be made public include details of his cooperation with the DEA and the Justice Department.
As the public stood outside, Schuster asked the judge to release Saab on bail because of his cooperation with the US government. However, Scola rejected the request, citing, among other things, Saab’s efforts to block his extradition, according to a full transcript of the hearing, which includes the part where the public is allowed to be in the courtroom. was not.
The judge also set the week of October 11 as the preliminary trial date.
Presenting the documents a year earlier, prosecutors requested that they remain secret because at the time they thought it would be risky for him and his family if the details of cooperation in Venezuela were known. On Wednesday, however, prosecutors said it was time to make them public, with the judge agreeing they could not remain hidden indefinitely.
According to those documents, Saab met with DEA agents and US prosecutors several times between August 2016 and June 2019, and in 2018 he signed a cooperation agreement with the DEA. As a result of that agreement, he communicated with agents by phone, text and voice messages, and even actively offered information.
At the meetings, Saab informed executives about their companies that had contracts with the Venezuelan government to build affordable housing, including how those companies received payments and what happened to the funds after they were received, according to the documents. Information about what happened is included.
In a separate meeting in June 2018, Saab admitted to paying bribes related to food supply contracts, documents show.
However, one of Saab’s lawyers appealed to the Atlanta court to rule in favor of diplomatic immunity, denying any cooperation.
The “sole purpose” of Saab’s meetings with US officials was to “confirm that neither he nor any company related to him had done anything wrong,” attorney David B. Rivkin said in a written statement.
Meanwhile, the businessman’s wife, Camilla Fabry, said on her Twitter account that “the US is clearly lying like Russia and Iraq,” and that Saab “will never harm Venezuela, it has not and will not.” ”
Associated Press Miami reporter Joshua Goodman contributed to this report.