Fugitive businessman close to Venezuela's Maduro extradited to US: source

Miami (AFP) –

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A graft-accused Colombian businessman who is a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was on Saturday extradited to the United States from Cape Verde, a source in his legal team told AFP.

Alex Saab "is in the plane and he is coming to the US," the source said.

Saab and his business partner Alvaro Pulido are charged in the United States of running a network that exploited food aid destined for Venezuela, an oil rich nation mired in an acute economic crisis.

They are alleged to have moved some $350 million out of Venezuela into accounts they controlled in the United States and other countries. They risk up to 20 years in prison.

Saab, who also has Venezuelan nationality and a Venezuelan diplomatic passport, was indicted in July 2019 in Miami for money laundering, and was arrested during a plane stopover in Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa in June 2020.

The US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to an AFP query seeking confirmation of the extradition of Saab.

Colombian President Ivan Duque said he had in fact been extradited.

"The extradition of Alex Saab is a triumph in the fight against the drug trafficking, asset laundering and corruption that the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has fostered," Duque tweeted.

"Colombia has supported and will continue to support the United States in the investigation of the transnational crime network led by Saab."

Cape Verde agreed last month to extradite Saab to the US, despite protests from Venezuela.

Venezuela said Saturday that Saab, whom it called its "ambassador" because he was slated to be part of a government delegation to talks with the opposition, had been "kidnapped" by the United States.