Venezuela warned detained envoy not to cooperate with U.S., court filing shows

(Reuters) - Venezuela’s foreign minister warned Alex Saab, a businessman close to President Nicolas Maduro who is facing extradition to the United States, not to cooperate with U.S. authorities, according to a document filed in a U.S. court by Saab’s lawyers.

Saab, a Colombian national accused by U.S. prosecutors of money laundering in connection to an allegedly corrupt deal to obtain supplies for Maduro’s government-run food subsidy program, was arrested last June in Cape Verde pursuant to an Interpol red notice. He is battling a U.S. extradition request.

In a late Thursday filing with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Saab’s lawyers argued that he should not be considered a fugitive from U.S. justice because Venezuela’s government named him a “special envoy” in 2018.

The lawyers included a July 1 letter sent to Saab by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza while Saab was detained in Cape Verde. It addressed him as the South American country’s “Special Representative to the Islamic Republic of Iran” and noted that Saab had information considered “classified” by Venezuela.

“If you are extradited to the United States, you will be put under pressure, whether legitimately or not, to disclose that information,” Arreaza wrote. “You are subject to Venezuelan law and have a duty to maintain strict confidentiality with respect to the classified information you possess.”

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At the time of his arrest, Saab was en route to Iran to negotiate shipments of fuel and humanitarian supplies to Venezuela, his lawyers previously told Reuters. His plane had stopped in the archipelago nation off the coast of West Africa to refuel.

Iran sent more than 2 million barrels of fuel last year to help resolve gasoline shortages in Venezuela, whose oil industry is under U.S. sanctions.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot