It is now 60 days since the prominent Caracas-based businessman Alex Nain Saab Moran was detained on the island of Sal, which is one of the ten main islands which make up the Republic of Cape Verde.
Saab is a Special Envoy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, having been appointed in 2018 to a role which requires him to undertake humanitarian missions involving medicines and basic foodstuffs. He stopped to make a refuelling stop on his way to Iran to purchase medicines and arrange for much-needed gasoline for domestic use.
The Special Envoy is the subject of sanctions imposed by the United States in July 2019 and has been indicted on allegations of illicit payments whose only connection to the United States was that they passed through the US Banking system. The allegedly “of concern” payments stem from a social housing contract in Venezuela and date back to 2012-14. Saab has always stenuously denied any wrongdoing.
The detention has become the subject of intense debate over the application of accepted norms of international law to the status of envoys representing governments on international special missions. There is also a murkier aspect of how real politik combines with a whiff of conspiracy to deliver large element of schadenfreude for US law enforcement.
International law and accepted norms of the right of free and uninterrupted passage for certain agents and representatives of governments have been reflected in several strongly-worded diplomatic communications sent by Venezuela to the Cape Verdian authorities.
Saab’s aircraft stopped in Cape Verde around 18.30 on Friday 12 June and approximately two hours after landing he was detained “on the basis of an Interpol Red Notice issued at the request of the United States”. Now this is where the mystery deepens and quite what was done by whom and when will, no doubt, be the subject of intense forensic analysis both inside and outside of Cape Verde.
The Red Notice was only issued by Interpol on Saturday 13 June. When Saab was detained, allowing for the 3 hours time difference between Cape Verde and Interpol’s home in Lyon, it would still have been 12 June.
Questions are now being asked therefore, how Saab could have been detained on 12 June and in any case, being a designated Special Envoy on a Special Mission, he could not have been detained under any circumstances under established norms of international law.