By Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2020

LISBON, Portugal (AP) - A Colombian businessman linked to the Venezuelan government who is wanted in the United States could be extradited from the Cape Verde islands even though Washington and the West African country have no bilateral extradition treaty, according to Cape Verde’s attorney general.

Attorney General José Landim says corruption suspect Alex Saab was arrested Friday night on the island of Sal when his plane stopped to refuel in the former Portuguese colony on the way to Iran.

Landim said there is “reciprocity” between Cape Verde and the U.S. under U.N. conventions on aspects of crime fighting, including corruption and money laundering, which could allow Saab to be extradited.

U.S. officials believe Saab holds many secrets about how Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, his family and top aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts amid widespread hunger in the oil-rich nation.

Saab was detained on an Interpol warrant at Sal airport, Landim told Cape Verde’s public broadcaster, RTCV, late Sunday.

He was set to appear before a judge who will decide on the next steps. The United States must now send a formal extradition request to Cape Verde, according to RTCV.

Officials at the Cape Verde attorney general’s office couldn’t be reached Monday.

Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Saab and a business partner last year on money laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government that was never built.

In private, U.S. officials have long described Saab as a front man for Maduro.

The Trump administration is increasingly going after top officials and business people connected to Maduro.

Venezuela on Saturday demanded Saab’s release, calling his arrest an illegal act of aggression by the United States.

Landim said Cape Verdean authorities were obligated to detain Saab because the country is a member of Interpol, which issued the warrant.

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