Saab, a Colombian businessman close to Maduro, was extradited to the US from Cape Verde earlier Saturday. Saab was detained in the African nation in June 2020 following an Interpol red notice due to his indictment in the US.
He faces charges of money laundering in Florida related to his activity as a government contractor in Venezuela. He also faces money laundering and fraud charges in his native Colombia.
His extradition, which followed a lengthy court battle in Cape Verde, was confirmed to CNN by Saab’s legal defense team on Saturday.
The extradition means Saab is now one of Maduro’s closest confidants to be available for interrogation by US officials. If he was to cooperate, he could significantly advance the Department of Justice case against Maduro, who is facing charges for narco-terrorism and drug trafficking in New York.
The men detained in Venezuela, known collectively as the “CITGO 6,” consist of former executives of CITGO Petroleum Corporation who were arrested in 2017 in Caracas on embezzlement charges and had been under house arrest since May. They deny the charges.
The family of one of the six, José Pereira, posted a video on Twitter, shot by him shortly before being picked up, saying he and his family were “very worried” about what would happen to him following Saab’s extradition.
Following Saab’s extradition, the Venezuelan government accused the US of “kidnapping” a Venezuelan “diplomat,” according to a statement by the Venezuelan government. Last month, Saab was named as a member of the Venezuelan government negotiating team for talks in Mexico with the country’s opposition. As a result of the extradition, the negotiation process was suspended, according to the Venezuelan government’s chief negotiator, Jorge Rodríguez.
The US ambassador to Venezuela and the Norwegian ambassador in Bogotá, who is brokering talks between the government and the opposition, both declined to comment.
It is unclear where the CITGO 6 detainees were taken on Saturday.
Security forces told them they were being picked up from their residences in Caracas to do medical checks, one of their relatives told CNN on Saturday.
In the video posted by his family after the detention, Pereira said, “We are here recording this video because at this time we and our families are very worried.”
He added that the Venezuelan government had already retaliated against the CITGO 6 in 2019 when it revoked their house arrest.
“If we’re taken into custody again, it would be under the worst conditions possible given that the SEBIN is now managed by the Ministry of Prisons. I want to record this testimony because I’m very worried,” he said in the video.
Veronica Vadell, daughter of CITGO 6 member Tomeu Vadell, told CNN her father texted the family to warn them he was being picked up.
“The fact that Saab is in the US before our father is an absolute disgrace,” she said.