Alex Saab was a DEA informant, documents show

AP
Washington Hispanic:

A Colombian businessman whom the United States accuses of being a figurehead for President Nicolás Maduro became a DEA collaborator in 2018 and an “active source” of information about the bribes he paid to Venezuelan officials, according to documents that were made public on Wednesday.

Alex Saab, who is accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from corrupt deals with the Maduro government, wired more than $10 million to the Drug Enforcement Administration (better known as DEA) as part of a settlement agreement. cooperation with US authorities that included numerous meetings with agents and prosecutors in Colombia and Europe.

However, the United States stopped considering him a source after Saab missed a 2019 deadline to turn himself in and face charges in Florida.

The information appears in documents filed by the prosecution in a sealed manner in February 2021 and that federal judge Robert Scola ordered to be made public in a Wednesday hearing in federal courts in which he also set the week of October 11 as the date. attempted trial of Saab.

This is a preliminary date while a higher court resolves a request by the defendant to have his case dismissed on the grounds that he should not have been extradited because he enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Venezuela maintains that Saab was one of its diplomats on a humanitarian mission en route to Iran when his plane was stopped in Cape Verde while stopping to refuel.

His extradition from Cape Verde further strained the tense relations between the United States and Venezuela and interrupted the dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition in Mexico at the time.

The US prosecutor’s office accuses Saab of amassing a fortune of more than 350 million dollars through businesses for which he would have paid bribes to Venezuelan officials and falsified documents to obtain contracts for the construction of affordable housing.

Saab, 49, who remains detained in a federal prison in Miami, arrived at the hearing handcuffed and shackled, dressed in a beige prison uniform and mask. He looked serious, his salt-and-pepper hair neatly pulled back in a small bun, and made no statement.

Saab pleaded not guilty in November and has assured that he should not have been extradited for having served as a “diplomat of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” His lawyers argue that as a diplomat he has immunity.

At the end of the hearing, the judge ordered that two documents be made public and that the transcript of what happened in a part of the hearing, which was closed to the public, be made public.

The judge asked Saab’s defense why he wanted all the documents in the case to remain secret, and attorney Neil Schuster explained that he feared for the safety of his client, his wife and their five children who live in Venezuela, according to the statement. with a transcript of the entire court session seen by the AP.

He also told him that he wanted to submit a request for parole, also sealed.

“If the Venezuelan government finds out the extent of what this individual has provided, I have no doubt that there will be retaliation against his wife and children,” the lawyer told the judge, who denied his request. When consulted, the prosecution agreed that the documents be made public.

According to those documents, Saab met several times with DEA ​​agents and US prosecutors, between August 2016 and June 2018, when he signed the cooperation agreement with the DEA. As a result of that pact, he communicated by phone, text and voice messages with the agents.

In the meetings, Saab informed U.S. officials about his companies that had contracts with the Venezuelan government to build affordable housing, including information about how those companies received payments and what happened to the money after they received the funds, according to the reports. documents.

In a June 2018 meeting, Saab admitted that he had paid bribes related to food supply contracts he had secured with the Venezuelan government, the documents show.

In a written statement sent to the AP, another of Saab’s lawyers, David B. Rivkin, said that the businessman wanted to “clarify” that “the sole purpose” of the meetings he had with US officials was to “confirm that neither he nor no company related to him had done anything wrong.”

Having released access to the documents at the request of the Department of Justice “is nothing more than an attempt to harm the interests of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Rivkin said.