- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2020

LISBON, Portugal (AP) - The Cape Verdean defense lawyer for a Colombian wanted in the United States on suspicion of corrupt activities in Venezuela said Tuesday the extradition process in the West African islands could take months.

José Manuel Pinto Monteiro said his client, Alex Saab, intends to fight extradition to the U.S..

Pinto Monteiro predicted that, if both sides pursue appeals through higher courts, including the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, the process won’t be resolved any time soon.

“It’s going to be a long road,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Saab was arrested last Friday on the Cape Verdean island of Sal when his plane stopped to refuel in the former Portuguese colony on the way to Iran. Authorities said he was detained on an Interpol warrant.

Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Saab 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 describe Saab as a front man for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Saab appeared Sunday before a local judge who ordered him detained until he could appear before an extradition judge. He was due to be transferred Tuesday to the court in the town of Mindelo which hears extradition cases, according to Pinto Monteiro.

He said U.S. authorities have been informed of Saab’s arrest and have 18 days to present a formal extradition request.

A Cape Verdean court decision on extradition is final and does not require a government stamp of approval.

Washington and Cape Verde have no bilateral extradition treaty, but Attorney General José 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.

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

Venezuela’s government protested the arrest of Saab, who it said was traveling on a Venezuelan passport and was on a “humanitarian mission” to buy food and medical supplies.

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