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How Cape Verde Breaks Diplomatic Rules, Detains Alex Saab Since June 2020

African Party of Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), the leading opposition party in Cape Verde has raised concerns about the treatment meted out to businessman Alex Saab who is under house arrest in the country.

At a Parliamentary session, Thursday, Rui Semedo, Parliamentary Leader of the PAICV, among others, questioned the continued detention of Alex Saab and sought answers to claims by his lawyers that the businessman has been denied access to healthcare, communication with the family, and defense team. 

“What is the status of the evaluation of this case? What guarantee is being given to this figure,” Rui Semedo asked. “I leave this questioning because if Mr. Alex Saab has a setback due to lack of care from the Cape Verde state, we could have very serious problems.” 

In response, Minister of Internal Administration, Paulo Rocha who was present said the matter is for the court to decide. 

“I don’t know why they didn’t ask the courts. He is an individual who is in prison, this has nothing to do with the government. He was released from prison and put under house arrest, he is under the custody of the police, who are complying with all judicial determinations,” said Paulo Rocha. 

“One wonders, if it was the PAICV in the government, if it would take a different attitude, if it would neutralize the courts and take over the case. What’s the point of this defense, sir,” Paulo Rocha added. 

Mr. Saab, a Colombian businessman linked to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, was arrested by police in Cape Verde in June last year on his way to Iran aboard a private jet. He was arrested on the orders of the U.S. on allegations of corruption.

The U.S. wants him extradited to face charges of corruption, but Venezuela has taken a stance against that decision as Mr. Saab’s lawyers fight to stop the process.

Rui Semedo PAICV
Rui Semedo, Parliamentary Leader of the PAICVFri, 12 Feb 2021. Source:

Femi Falana, lawyer of Mr. Saab argued at the ECOWAS court that his client who is under house arrest cannot “be subjected to imprisonment and legal proceedings by Cape Verde” because he is a diplomat of Venezuela and must be accorded all the privileges of a diplomat. 

According to him, his client was on his way to discharge diplomatic duties of Venezuela in Iran when he was arrested by local police in Cape Verde.

Mr. Falana at the hearing of the case on Friday, February 5, 2021 said, it was surprising that Cape Verde continued to allege that Mr. Saab is not a diplomat and that there was nothing wrong with how it has handled the businessman.

Falana argued that on 24 December 2020, Alex Saab was appointed as Alternate Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the African Union. His immunity was thus reinforced, but it also demonstrated that he continues to command the full support of Venezuela as a diplomatic agent. 

He further told the court that no objections have been raised to Mr. Saab’s appointment by the African Union, adding that it is not a matter for Cape Verde (or any other country for that matter) to raise an issue with whom Venezuela as a sovereign state appoints as its ambassador.

Equally, it is for Iran to determine if it recognizes Mr. Saab as a Special Envoy to Iran and not any third party. 

Prior to this, Saab’s defense team had registered its displeasure about the conditions of the client’s house arrest describing it as “completely irregular”. 

According to the team, the conditions for Mr. Saab “continue to directly affect his health and his right to defense and are significantly worse than those afforded in the past to convicted drug traffickers in Cape Verde.”

A press statement issued stated that “Lawyers cannot have privileged communications with their client. Commander Orlando Evora, Regional National Police Commander, has not responded to requests for the specialist medical attention and medical examination Ambassador Saab as a cancer patient requires. 

“Communication with the family is only permitted for a short period each day and only then with the use of mobile phone belonging to the police and the conversations being held in the presence of the police. 

“Members of Ambassador Saab’s security team, which is monitoring the activity of the soldiers and police, are being arrested every day on the premise of ID verification despite being presented with ID cards at the time of arrest and taken to the police station where they were harassed. 

“These are just more irregularities in a long line of irregularities which began on 12 June 2020 with the illegal arrest of Ambassador and Special Envoy Alex Saab.”

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