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Maduro ally Saab to plead not guilty to money laundering – lawyer

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks by a mural in support of the liberation of Colombian businessman and envoy Alex Saab, who is detained in Cape Verde on charges of laundering money for the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela S

By Alexandra Ulmer and Luc Cohen

(Reuters) -Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman who became a special envoy for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, will plead not guilty to money laundering charges when arraigned on Monday, his lawyer Henry Bell told Reuters.

In a case that pits the United States against Maduro’s socialist administration, Saab was arrested in Cape Verde during a refueling stop en route to Iran and extradited to the United States earlier this month.

He and an ally have been charged with siphoning around $350 million out of Venezuela via the United States as part of a bribery scheme linked to Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate.

When sanctioning him in 2019, Washington described Saab as the orchestrator of a “vast corruption network” that enriched Maduro and his allies through a complex web of shell companies, business associates and relatives.

Saab’s lawyers have called the U.S. charges “politically motivated” and his family says Saab has been “kidnapped.”

Venezuela’s opposition is hoping Saab cooperates with investigators and sheds light on what they say has been widespread graft in the oil-rich nation.

The United States labels Maduro an illegitimate dictator and has sanctioned the OPEC nation’s state oil company in a bid to pressure him to step down, while several top Venezuelan officials – including Maduro himself – face U.S. drug trafficking charges.


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