From social housing contractor in Venezuela, the Colombian Alex Saab went on to manage a gigantic network of imports for the illegitimate government of Nicolás Maduro, who gave him nationality, an ambassadorial title, and fought unsuccessfully to avoid extradition to USA.
Cape Verde, where Saab was detained since June 2020, handed him over to the US authorities this Saturday to face a trial in Miami for money laundering through a Venezuelan government food program.
According to the complaint, Saab, 49, and his partner Álvaro Pulido, whose whereabouts are unknown, had transferred US $ 350 million outside of Venezuela to foreign accounts that they owned or controlled. Both face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The opposition points out that he is a “front man” for Maduro and his family, while messages have been stamped calling for “Freedom for the diplomat Alex Saab” or “#FreeAlexSaab” in black and red letters on the walls of Caracas.
The Chavista government also issued, as soon as the news of his extradition was known, a statement denouncing the “kidnapping” of his “ambassador” by the United States. Before being detained, it was not public that Saab received Venezuelan nationality, much less that he had a diplomatic title.
In retaliation for the extradition, the government suspended its participation in the negotiation process with the opposition in Mexico, in which it tried to include Saab as one of its delegates.
“Never before has Chavismo done so much for someone. What explains why heaven and earth are moving, that they seek to give him diplomatic immunity? ”Explained Roberto Deniz, a journalist for the Armando.info site, who has written exhaustively about the Saab case and about who an arrest warrant weighs in Venezuela for “incitement to hatred.”
“It is evident that there is a lot of fear, not only because he may reveal information about bribes, places where money was moved, surcharges”, but because he “was the hinge of many of these businesses that the Nicolás Maduro regime begins to carry out with other countries. allies and it is evident that he is a man who must have a lot of information, “he added.
The son of a Barranquilla-based Lebanese businessman, Saab began as a promotional keyrings seller before venturing into the textile sector, with 100 warehouses exporting to more than 10 countries, according to official biographies.
“Guided by his spirit as a cosmopolitan entrepreneur, he seeks to transfer his entrepreneurial capacity beyond borders” and moves to Venezuela “interested in the construction industry,” says a series on his YouTube channel entitled “Alex Saab, anti-blockade agent ”.
The first contract he signed in Venezuela was in 2011 at the Miraflores presidential palace. At the time, Maduro was foreign minister and the president, Hugo Chávez. A young Saab with a small ponytail climbs onto the platform and signs a “strategic alliance” for “the constitution and installation of kits for the construction of prefabricated houses.”
The then Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was also present at the event.
“I offered an Italian construction system,” Saab said in an interview with the newspaper El Tiempo in 2017. “After a year of work and knocking on doors, we managed to enter and open a factory.”
“I must be emphatic on this,” he added. “I do not know President Maduro, beyond a couple of formal acts.”
But it was precisely with the arrival of Maduro to the presidency that Saab “almost immediately” became “the consented contractor” and later its “shadow plenipotentiary minister,” said Deniz, whose residence of his family in Caracas was raided on Friday.
According to the journalist, from social housing, Saab won a contract for the construction of gyms for 100 million dollars, paid in advance, and from there one in oil with an inexperienced “ghost company”, which ended up falling for the claim from other companies in the field.
Maduro created in 2016 the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP), a subsidized food distribution plan at a time of shortages of more than two-thirds of basic products. And Saab became one of the suppliers, striking “major business deals,” according to its YouTube series.
In 2018, according to this version, he assumes “as a public official” the “mission” of acquiring in Russia and Iran “food, medicine, spare parts for refineries and different companies”.
Saab congratulates itself, for example, on the Iranian fuel route, which it opened “by instructions, guidance and vision of President Nicolás Maduro,” whom in 2017 he said he did not know.
Iran has sent gasoline tankers to the former oil power, the target of a U.S. oil embargo, which has riddled Maduro with sanctions seeking his downfall.
The former attorney general of Venezuela, Luisa Ortega, has cataloged him as “the main figurehead of the autocracy” of Maduro and his family, and assured that his extradition “is an achievement for those of us who seek justice against those responsible for the tragedy and chaos that they are experiencing. the Venezuelans”.