World News

Wikileaks lawyer Garzon to represent Maduro associate in US extradition case

(Reuters) - Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon’s law firm said on Tuesday it will represent a detained Venezuelan businessman close to President Nicolas Maduro whom the United States is seeking to extradite from Cape Verde on corruption charges.

Alex Saab was arrested in June when a plane he was traveling on landed in the West African island nation. The United States last year charged him with money laundering and sanctioned him for allegedly orchestrating a corruption network that allowed him and Maduro to profit from a state-run food subsidy program.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in June that Saab, a Colombian who also has a Venezuelan passport, was arrested pursuant to an Interpol red notice issued with respect to his indictment.

Garzon, who won fame with his attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in the 1990s, is also coordinating Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s defense to fight his extradition from Britain to the United States.

In a statement Garzon’s Madrid-based law firm, ILOCAD, said Saab’s arrest was an example of how the Trump administration was using legal process to “pressure Venezuela on the level of international politics.”

ILOCAD said it would contact the United Nations and African Union to demonstrate that “Mr Saab’s rights are being violated by this extradition process.”

The U.S. government has imposed crippling sanctions on Venezuela’s vital oil sector to deprive the government of funds, and has indicted Maduro and over a dozen other top officials for crimes including drug trafficking and corruption.

In a statement in June, Venezuela’s foreign ministry called Saab’s arrest a violation of international law and said he had been traveling as an “agent” of the state on business to obtain humanitarian supplies to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Reporting by Belen Carreño in Madrid; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Steve Orlofsky