Abu Dhabi: Cape Verde authorities have arrested a Colombian businessman of Lebanese origin, Alex Saab, who is considered the conduit of the Hezbollah militia in Latin America, on charges related to money laundering and illegal activities in Venezuela, according to his lawyer in Miami Saturday, London-based Elaph news outlet reported Saturday.
Saab was indicted by the US justice department for money laundering last July.
Cape Verde does not have a criminal extradition agreement with the United States, and Mary Dominguez, Saab’s lawyer, confirmed his arrest, without giving further details.
The United States accuses Saab and his trading partner, Alvaro Boledo, of laundering and transferring $350 million outside Venezuela, either to the United States or via the United States to foreign accounts. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
The 48-year-old was detained on Friday on an Interpol “red notice” stemming from the indictment.
Saab was reportedly travelling to Iran on a Venezuelan plane and had stopped in Cape Verde to refuel.
US charges Venezuelan president with ‘narco-terrorism’
Saab is accused by the US government of serving as President Maduro’s front man in a large network of money laundering and corruption.
He is accused of making huge sums of money from overvalued contracts, as well as Venezuela’s systems of government-set exchange rate and centralised import and distribution of basic foods.
Venezuela has faced chronic shortages of food and medicine as a result of years of political and economic crisis.
“Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide-scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said when the sanctions were announced.
“They use food as a form of social control, to reward political supporters and punish opponents, all the while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through a number of fraudulent schemes.”
Saab was also wanted for money laundering in his native Colombia, where he is regarded as a fugitive from justice.
Saab and his Italian wife, Camilla Fabri, are also under investigation in Italy for money laundering, according to the Italian press.
Washington has long accused the President Maduro of leading a corrupt regime in Venezuela - a charge he has repeatedly rejected.
In March, the US charged him and other senior officials in the country with “narco-terrorism”.
The Trump administration backs Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last year.