Venezuela halts talks after Maduro ally extradited to US

Venezuela halts talks after Maduro ally extradited to US

Miami: Venezuela's government said Saturday it would halt negotiations with the country's opposition in retaliation for the extradition to the US of a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro wanted on money laundering charges.

Jorge Rodríguez, who has been heading the government's delegation in talks that started in August, said his team wouldn't travel to Mexico City for the next scheduled round of talks with his U.S.-backed opponents, although he stopped short of saying the government was abandoning the talks altogether.

The announcement came hours after businessman Alex Saab was put on a US-bound plane in Cape Verde after failing in a 16-month fight to prevent his extradition to face money laundering charges in Miami.

Saab was arrested in the African archipelago while making a stop on the way to Iran for what Maduro's government later described as a diplomatic humanitarian


Rodriguez, standing in front of a giant sign reading Free Alex Saab, called his arrest an illegal aggression by the US, which has been pushing for years for Maduro's removal.

Adding to the intrigue, Venezuelan security forces on Saturday picked up six American oil executives who have been under home arrest in another politically charged case.

It's unclear if the men all of whom were convicted and sentenced last year to lengthy prison terms in a corruption case that the US says was marred by irregularities were being returned to jail. A lawyer for the men said he doesn't know where they were being taken.

The so-called Citgo 6, for the Houston subsidiary of Venezuela's state owned oil company, were lured to Caracas in 2017 for a meeting when masked police busted into a conference room and took them into custody on embezzlement charges tied to a never-executed deal to refinance billions in Citgo bonds.

Saab's arrival in the US is bound to complicate relations between Washington and Caracas. Maduro's government has vehemently objected to Saab's prosecution as a veiled attempt at regime change by Washington.

US prosecutors say Saab amassed a fortune wheeling and dealing on behalf of the socialist government, which faces heavy US sanctions.

American authorities have been targeting Saab for years, believing he holds numerous secrets about how Maduro, the president's family and his top aides siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts for food and housing amid widespread hunger in oil-rich Venezuela.

However his defenders, including Maduro's government as well as allies Russia and Cuba, consider his arrest illegal and maintain that Saab was a diplomatic envoy of the Venezuelan government and as such possesses immunity from prosecution while on official business.

In a statement Saturday, Venezuela's government again denounced the kidnapping of Saab by the US government in complicity with authorities in Cape Verde."

The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela repudiates this grave violation of human rights against a Venezuelan citizen, invested as a diplomat and representative of our country before the world, the statement said.

The argument failed to persuade Cape Verde's Constitutional Court, which last month authorised his extradition after a year of wrangling by Saab's legal team, which includes former Spanish judge Baltasar Garz n and BakerHostetler, one of the US' biggest firms.

Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Saab in 2019 on money-laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than USD 350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan


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