Miami judge rejects Maduro ally’s request to dismiss charges

MIAMI (AP) — A federal judge in Miami has rejected a request by a prominent ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to dismiss money laundering charges, ruling that he must first surrender to U.S. authorities before he can argue his claim of diplomatic immunity.

The ruling Thursday means that ongoing U.S. extradition proceedings against businessman Alex Saab will continue.

Cape Verde arrested the Colombian-born businessman in June on a U.S. warrant when his jet made a refueling stop on a flight to Iran. The country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of the U.S. extradition request although Saab’s attorneys said they plan to appeal.

U.S. officials believe Saab holds numerous 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. At the time of his arrest, he was allegedly traveling to Tehran to negotiate deals to exchange Venezuelan gold for Iranian gasoline.

Even before an eventual extradition, Saab’s attorneys had been trying to get the U.S. charges dismissed.

On Monday, his New York-based lawyer, David Rivkin of Baker & Hostetler, argued in federal court that the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations affords his client immunity from prosecution owing to the multiple diplomatic posts he’s held for Maduro’s government since 2018.

Judge Robert Scola was unpersuaded and in Thursday’s ruling said he sees no reason to make an exception to rules denying fugitives access to U.S. courts before they surrender to U.S. authorities.

“It is worth repeating: if Saab Moran wishes to raise ‘fundamental’ challenges to the indictment, he may physically appear in this district as the Government has repeatedly requested,” Scola wrote.

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