Colombian businessmen tied to Maduro going to house arrest

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Authorities in the African nation of Cabo Verde said Thursday they have approved transferring a jailed Colombian businessman with close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to house arrest.

Alex Saab, 49, has been held in jail by the island nation since June on a U.S. arrest warrant. He has since been fighting extradition to Miami, where he is charged with corruption.

U.S. officials believe Saab holds many secrets about how Maduro, his family and top aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts amid widespread hunger in the oil-rich nation.

Prosecutors in Cabo Verde said in a statement that the decision for house arrest was partly based on the fact that Saab has remained provisionally detained longer than the maximum allowed.

Authorities said extradition proceedings will continue until a final decision is reached.

Saab’s legal team said the house arrest decision was overdue, and the seven months he has spent in jail “under inhumane conditions” have exacerbated health problems. Under home detention, he can now receive proper treatment, the attorneys said in a statement.

“This is a very important milestone in the defense of Ambassador Saab,” said Aristides Dias, senior member of Saab’s defense team. “We look forward to building upon this foundation and look forward to achieving his freedom and safe return home.”

Saab was detained when his jet made a refueling stop on a flight to Tehran, where he was believed to be negotiating deals to exchange Venezuelan gold for Iranian gasoline.

Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted him in 2019 on money laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government that was never built.

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