The U.S. Justice system has in its hands the fate of Nicolás Maduro’s alleged frontman, Alex Saab, whose influence could be more dangerous than that of “El Chapo” Guzmán.
El Chapo is known worldwide as a drug trafficker, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel; he admitted having murdered between 2,000 and 3,000 people and was convicted of 10 crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment with more than 30 years in prison. All of the charges against him were related to drug distribution, including money laundering and carrying weapons.
Although El Chapo is a very powerful man with a history of assassinations and was allegedly behind political campaigns such as that of Juan Orlando Hernandez in Honduras, he is not a “high-level” strategist like Alex Saab, who designed the criminal network that keeps Nicolas Maduro’s regime in power in Venezuela. His international reach is such that he has been linked to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, the FARC, and the ELN in Colombia. He would also be a key player in the illicit business of Iran and Turkey.
Saab has Colombian, Lebanese, and Venezuelan nationality and also had a diplomatic passport issued by Antigua and Barbuda. However, the latter was withdrawn in 2019 when the island learned of the investigations in Colombia against the businessman.
Saab and his business partner Álvaro Pulido are accused in the United States of leading a network that enriched itself with the purchase and sale of subsidized food in Venezuela, which was imported from Mexico, Turkey and Iran. Prosecutors allege that both Saab and Pulido moved $350 million from Venezuela to accounts they controlled in the United States and other countries.
For the U.S. justice system, Saab is also the architect of the commercial structure that allows the Maduro regime to resist the Department of the Treasury sanctions.
Terrorism and drug trafficking
Hezbollah is a criminal network responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, Argentina, Panama, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria; but also in Latin America it started to participate in the most lucrative illicit network in the region: narcotics.
Jeff Sessions, who was US Attorney General in 2018, pointed out that Hezbollah is one of the main threats of transnational crime.
That year, international investigations revealed that Saab was strongly linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Authorities from the United States, Israel, and Colombia are following the trail of several financial movements from Venezuela that would have ended up financing the terrorist group.
In fact, according to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, there are several financial movements linked to Alex Saab that would have left the Central Bank of Venezuela and, after passing through tax havens, ended up in Asia.
The relationship of Maduro’s alleged frontman with criminal networks goes much further, according to reports and investigations, the FARC had such a close relationship with Saab that he allegedly became the “treasurer.”
A report by the Nuevo Herald revealed that Saab was the FARC’s chief financial officer, and indicated that through him, laundering operations were coordinated to hide the fortunes obtained through drug trafficking and other illicit operations.
Being Maduro’s alleged frontman and treasurer of the FARC was not enough for Saab. Now incarcerated in the United States, he would have been the architect of regimes that seek to evade international sanctions.
This Thursday, October 21, Diosdado Cabello, the number two of Chavismo who is also under investigation in the United States, publicly admitted that Saab helped to evade international sanctions through his companies; and that for doing so he also received money. According to Cabello, “it was not easy” to get someone to do that “job.”
“He was one of those in charge of circumventing all the persecutions of imperialism against the homeland, he was able to bring to Venezuela even fuel,” Cabello pointed out.
An investigation published by The Atlantic Council reveals that Saab was one of the heads that achieved an agreement for Iran to send fuel to Venezuela, in exchange for illicit payment in gold.
According to Bloomberg, the Islamic Republic received almost $500 million (nine tons) in gold bullion as payment.
In fact, the United States went so far as to seize four Liberian-flagged oil tankers that were prevented from reaching Venezuela. The action was described as “the largest American seizure of Iranian fuel” to date. In addition to Iran, Turkey is another country that was enriched by Alex Saab’s errands.
Three countries, including the United States, are investigating an illicit scheme and estimate that trade between the two nations is based on criminal actions.
According to Bloomberg, it was in late 2016 when the Ankara and Caracas regimes began building an alleged secret trade network that could circumvent financial sanctions imposed by the United States.
The gold-for-food system is a scheme by several multinational companies aimed at concealing the flow of money and goods, investigators say.
“Gold is shipped to Turkey and converted into cash, which pays for food. Some food is shipped from Turkey, according to people involved in the shipping organization, but much of it is sourced in Mexico. Before sending it to Venezuela, its value is inflated, which allows the people involved in the scheme to get money from the transactions,” opposition congressman Carlos Paparoni told Bloomberg.
He further said that the companies Saab has set up to fulfill the food contracts are in the hands of trusted associates and have been registered in Mexico, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Turkey.
Saab and Iran’s war secrets
In addition to being a key man, Saab is a key player for Iran and its presence in Latin America. The Colombian businessman could have confidential information that would be of great use to the United States due to the threats to national security.
A report in the newspaper El Tiempo revealed this Monday, October 18, that the United States is investigating whether there was something else in the ships that took food to Venezuela, such as the missiles that Maduro’s regime negotiated with Iran.
“There is information that Iranian experts have traveled to Venezuela to modify the 3,979 Igla missiles that the regime already has, to give them greater range, which turns the plot into a national security threat for the United States,” the Colombian newspaper states.