Federal court hearing on case of kidnapped Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab
Miami, FL- Nearly 30 international solidarity, peace and justice activists packed into a crowded courtroom at the Wilke Ferguson Federal Courthouse in downtown Miami on the morning of Monday, December 12 to show support for kidnapped Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab. The special hearing before federal judge Robert Scola, Jr. was on a motion by Saab’s defense team to dismiss the charges against him because he is an official diplomat of the Venezuelan government and should therefore be immune from any prosecution in the United States.
Alex Saab was illegally imprisoned on the island Republic of Cabo Verde, at the directive of the United States on June 12, 2020, for “conspiracy to commit money laundering.” It is an entirely fabricated charge but one that is often used by the United States against those who it views as political opponents. The action was taken in secret, without notifying his defense team and without any necessary or relevant documentation. Alex Saab was then illegally renditioned to the United States from Cabo Verde [also known as Cape Verde] – which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States – on October 16, 2021.
In Miami, local activists were joined by supporters from across the state and country, and even from as far away as Tunisia. They gathered at 8 a.m. outside of the federal courthouse with signs and a banner that read, “Free Alex Saab! Venezuelan diplomat: Kidnapped by the empire.”
At 9 a.m. the activists made their way into the courtroom to witness the hearing. Sitting behind the defense bench, they watched as Alex Saab entered the room a moment later, escorted by federal marshals. He was in a light-brown prisoner uniform, with shackles around his waist and feet, all connected to the handcuffs around his wrists. He wore navy blue Adidas sandals with white socks, his hair was tied in a bun, revealing a tattoo on his neck with his wife’s name: Camila. He seemed in good health and good spirits and conversed with his lawyers.
The defense began its case with the first of three witnesses, and myriad official documents from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Bolivarian Republican of Venezuela, and even documents from former U.S. government officials – all of which should prove Saab’s status as a special envoy to Iran for the Venezuelan government since 2018.
One of his defense attorneys, Jonathan New, began opening arguments by putting Saab’s 2020 arrest into context.
“Venezuela was trying to overcome years of crippling economic sanctions placed upon it by the United States,” New said. “It was under these circumstances that President Nicolas Maduro appointed Alex Saab as a special envoy to undertake missions to Iran to access secure food, medicine and fuel for Venezuela.”
He explained how the U.S. sanctions, coupled with the global economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, made Saab’s job securing humanitarian goods for the people of Venezuela even more important. He added that Saab traveled multiple times to Iran, “at great personal risk to Mr. Saab given that we were at the height of the COVID pandemic and nowhere close to having vaccines ready.”
The defense showed that the United States knew about these diplomatic trips, and in fact reported on them in various news outlets. As a special envoy, Saab had successfully negotiated with the Iranian government multiple times and secured oil tankers, medical supplies and food from Iran to Venezuela.
“This did not sit well with the United States, as Saab was actively working to reduce the effects of U.S. sanctions,” said attorney New.
The defense went on to say that the issue before the court is simply to decide whether Alex Saab was a special envoy for Venezuela when he was arrested in Cape Verde. If so, the court must dismiss U.S. government’s phony conspiracy charges against him and set him free. As attorney New noted: “If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Mr. Saab was and is a special envoy.”
Meanwhile the strategy by the prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Kramer, was less clear. On the one hand, Kramer stated the prosecution will attempt to prove that the legal documents from Venezuela pertaining to Saab’s diplomatic status were somehow forged or falsified; on the other hand, he said the prosecution will also argue that Saab had a “different” type of diplomatic status that does not fall under the Vienna Convention’s diplomatic immunity agreement. It seemed like the government is grasping at straws with these two wildly disparate arguments.
The hearing will continue through the week. More updates from Miami to come.