Businessman close to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was DEA informant, records show.
Newly unsealed court records show that a Colombian businessman linked to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was secretly signed up by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a cooperating source in 2018 and gave agents information about bribes he paid to Venezuelan officials.
A businessman described as the main conduit for corruption in Venezuela was secretly signed up by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a source in 2018, revealing information about bribes he paid to top officials in President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government.
As part of his multi-year cooperation, Alex Saab also forfeited millions of dollars in illegal proceeds he admitted to earning from corrupt state contracts, new records in a closely-watched criminal case show. But his contact with U.S. law enforcement ended abruptly after he missed a May 30, 2019 deadline to surrender to or face criminal charges, according to prosecutors.
The stunning revelation was made public following a heated closed door hearing Wednesday in Miami federal court in which an attorney for Saab argued his family in Venezuela could be jailed or physically harmed by Maduro’s government if his interactions with U.S. law enforcement became known.
“They are basically under the thumb of the government,” attorney Neil Schuster argued in the hearing, a transcript of which was later unsealed by Judge Robert Scola. “If the Venezuelan government finds out the extent of what this individual has provided, I have no doubt that there will be retaliation against his wife and his children.”
U.S. officials have presented Saab as a close associate of Maduro, someone who reaped huge windfall profits from dodgy contracts to import food while millions in the South American nation starved. The Maduro government considers him a diplomat who was kidnapped during a refueling stop while on a humanitarian mission to Iran made more urgent by U.S. sanctions.
“Saab was playing with fire,” said Gerard Reyes, a Miami-based author of a recent book on Saab, including his past dealings with U.S. officials.
“He believed that he could work as a snitch for the prosecution and at the same time pretend he was being persecuted by Yankee imperialism, without any consequences. But in the end he got burned.”
The Associated Press in November reported that Saab has held several meetings with U.S. law enforcement in his native Colombia as well as Europe. As part of his cooperation, he wired three payments to a DEA-controlled account containing nearly $10 million obtained through corruption.
However, he was deactivated as a source after failing to surrender as had been previously agreed during meetings in which he was represented by U.S. and Colombian attorneys. Two months later, he was sanctioned by the Trump administration and indicted in Miami federal court on charges of siphoning millions from state contracts to build affordable housing for Venezuela’s government.
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