(Reuters) – Authorities in Cape Verde have arrested Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman close to socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who was charged by the United States with alleged money laundering, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Saturday.
Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said in a statement that Saab was arrested pursuant to an Interpol red notice issued with respect to his U.S. indictment, without providing further details.
Maria Dominguez, Saab’s U.S.-based attorney, confirmed his arrest but also declined to provide further details about his arrest in the archipelago nation off the coast of western Africa.
In July 2019, U.S. prosecutors charged Saab and another Colombian businessman with money laundering related to a 2011-2015 scheme to pay bribes to take advantage of Venezuela’s government-set exchange rate.
The U.S. Treasury Department has also imposed sanctions on Saab for allegedly orchestrating a vast corruption network for food imports and distribution in Venezuela and profiting from overvalued contracts, including the food subsidy program.
U.S. officials said the food program lined the pockets of Maduro, who has overseen a six-year economic collapse of the once-prosperous OPEC nation and stands accused of corruption and human rights violations.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The arrest came after the Colombian attorney general’s office last Tuesday said it had frozen assets belonging to Saab in the country worth some 35 billion Colombian pesos ($9.28 million), adding that Saab was under investigation for crimes including money laundering.
($1 = 3,773.0000 Colombian pesos)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; additional reporting by Brad Heath in Washington; editing by Diane Craft)