MIAMI ( Associated Press) – A federal judge in South Florida questioned Tuesday why he should accept a claim of diplomatic immunity by an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro if the United States does not recognize that government’s legitimacy. whom he allegedly represented when he was taken into custody.
After a nearly two-hour hearing in federal courts in the city of Miami, Judge Robert Scola said next week he will issue an order with his ruling on a request to dismiss the case filed by Colombian businessman Alex Saab, which the United States One was considered. Figurehead for Maduro.
“The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the legitimate government of Venezuela,” Scola quickly asked why then it should validate Saab’s supposed diplomatic immunity. Scola said that since it is a government that is not recognized by Washington, neither does it recognize the documents issued or its decisions.
Saab is accused of laundering millions of dollars obtained by bribing Venezuelan officials in exchange for contracts to build affordable housing. According to the indictments, those corrupt businesses worth about $350 million were moved out of Venezuela and passed through the United States. Saab could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.
The businessman was extradited just two years ago and has since argued that he could not face charges in the United States because he had diplomatic immunity at the time of his arrest.
Saab has pleaded not guilty and says he was on a humanitarian mission en route to Iran when his plane stopped in Cape Verde for refueling. His defense has demanded his immediate release, noting that he was illegally “abducted” while he was traveling as a diplomatic representative from Venezuela to Iran.
With his words, the judge seemed closer to the position of the prosecution, which refused to recognize Saab’s alleged diplomatic immunity throughout the judicial process.
During the hearing, Saab looked calm as he sat with a team of more than five lawyers. He arrived handcuffed and with shackles on his ankles, but later, at the request of his defense, the judge agreed to remove the handcuffs. His face was covered by a mask, he was wearing a beige prison uniform and had headphones in his ears to listen to the Spanish translation of the hearing, which was conducted in English. He remained silent the whole time.
On the other hand, his two lawyers reiterated their request to Scola to dismiss the charges and close the judicial file.
“The government’s case against Saab is based on a conspiracy theory based on speculation,” said Jonathan Barr, one of Saab’s legal representatives. They asked the judge to dismiss the charges because Saab was Venezuela’s diplomatic envoy to Iran and said the United States knew this when he was detained while in transit to his mission.
Countering the prosecution’s position, another lawyer for Saab, Lee Casey, said that immunity stemmed from being sent as a diplomatic representative and accepted by Iran, and had nothing to do with the United States. Is.
But prosecutors said none of the evidence presented by Saab actually showed he had a long-term diplomatic mission under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. He also questioned the validity of documents, such as letters of authentication of his representative’s status or Saab’s own passport, and stated that some of them did not even recognize Saab as a diplomat or envoy to Venezuela, but only as a Venezuelan. referred to as a citizen of
Alexander J. Kramer, one of the Justice Department lawyers, said, “Mr. Saab could have had no immunity.” “Mr. Saab was not a diplomatic officer in 2020,” he said.
Kramer also recalled that a court in Cape Verde had determined that Saab had no immunity and agreed to extradite him. Furthermore, he said, the President of the United States has the authority to determine which government he considers legitimate and believes that neither Maduro nor his officials are legitimate.
The motion made by Saab to dismiss the charges “must be rejected by this court”, he said.