Venezuela aims to incorporate jailed envoy in talks with opposition
CARACAS, Sept 14 (Reuters) – The Venezuelan government wants a top envoy who has been charged with money laundering and is close to President Nicolas Maduro to take part in its political dialogue with the opposition, a move that threatens to stir tensions.
Venezuela National Assembly President Jorge Rodriguez said on Tuesday that the government would incorporate Alex Saab, currently jailed in Cabo Verde, as a member of its delegation at the dialogue process taking place in Mexico.
Saab, a Colombian businessman, was arrested last year in the African archipelago nation on an international arrest warrant related to 2019 U.S. charges of money laundering.
A Cape Verde court ruling last week paved the way for his extradition to the United States. Rodriguez did not specify how, if at all, Saab would be able to travel to Mexico for the talks.
Rodriguez is the lead delegate for Maduro’s socialist government to the Norway-mediated talks with representatives of opposition leader Juan Guaido, aimed at resolving the South American country’s longstanding political crisis.
His proposal is likely to anger the opposition, which has long accused Maduro’s government of negotiating in bad faith and using formal talks as an effort to buy time when facing political pressure.
The opposition views Saab as a prime example of the business operators who profited off close relationships with Venezuelan officials as the once-prosperous OPEC nation’s economy collapsed, plunging millions into poverty.
The United States – which labels Maduro a corrupt dictator who rigged his 2018 re-election – imposed sanctions on Saab in 2019, accusing him of bribing Maduro relatives to win overvalued government contracts.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida also charged Saab for money laundering in connection with a separate alleged bribery scheme.
Saab’s lawyers have called the U.S. charges “politically motivated” and said his arrest took place while he was en route to Iran to negotiate aid and fuel shipments to impoverished Venezuela. Venezuelan officials say Washington’s pursuit of Saab is part of its “economic war” aimed at ousting Maduro.
“Saab has been kidnapped in an overseas jail for more than 400 days, violating all international norms,” Rodriguez said in an appearance on Venezuelan state television.
Rodriguez said Saab would focus on talks related to social measures, one of the partial agreements by the two sides to work together reached at a prior round of talks earlier this month.
Reporting by Caracas newsroom
Writing by Luc Cohen
Editing by Rosalba O’Brien
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.