CARACAS / PRAIA, Oct.16 (Reuters) – Venezuela said on Saturday it would suspend negotiations with the opposition that were to resume this weekend, after Cape Verde extradited Colombian businessman Alex Saab , a Venezuelan envoy, to the United States for money laundering.
The announcement was made by Socialist Party lawmaker Jorge Rodriguez, who heads the government’s negotiating team. Rodriguez said the Venezuelan government would not attend the talks which are due to start on Sunday.
The Venezuelan government in September appointed Saab – who was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel – as a member of its negotiating team in talks with the opposition in Mexico, where both sides seek to resolve their political crisis.
Rodriguez, reading a statement, called the decision to suspend negotiations “an expression of our deepest protest against the brutal aggression against the person and the inauguration of our delegate Alex Saab Moran”.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido condemned the decision.
“With this irresponsible suspension of their aid to Mexico, they once again escape urgent attention for the country, which currently suffers from extreme poverty of 76.6%,” he said on Twitter. Guaido said he would continue to insist on finding a solution to the country’s crisis.
Venezuela, in a Twitter post from the Ministry of Communications, denounced the extradition as a “kidnapping”.
Hours after Saab’s extradition, Venezuela revoked the house arrest of six former executives of refiner Citgo, the US subsidiary of state-owned oil company PDVSA, two sources with knowledge of the situation and a family member told Reuters. .
The US Department of Justice indicted Saab in 2019 as part of a bribery program to take advantage of Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate. The United States also sanctioned him for allegedly orchestrating a corrupt network that allowed Saab and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to profit from a state-run food subsidy scheme.
Saab’s lawyers called the US accusations “politically motivated.”
Cape Verde’s national radio reported the extradition on Saturday. The government of Cape Verde was not immediately available for comment.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice has confirmed Saab’s extradition and said he is expected to appear for the first time in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday.
In a Twitter post, Colombian President Ivan Duque called Saab’s extradition “a triumph in the fight against drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption by the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro”.
Former Citgo executives, who were arrested in November 2017 after being summoned to a meeting at PDVSA headquarters in Caracas, were taken from their homes to one of the intelligence police headquarters, two reports said on Saturday. sources.
The six former executives were released from prison and placed under house arrest in April. Read more
The group is made up of five naturalized US citizens and one permanent resident. The US government has repeatedly called for their release.
“My father cannot be used as a bargaining chip,” said Cristina Vadell, daughter of former executive Tomeu Vadell. “I am worried about his health, especially given the coronavirus cases in the country.”
The communications ministry and attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Report by Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Julio Rodrigues in Praia; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Written by Bate Felix and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler
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