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AU keeps mute as Cape Verde keeps Venezuelan diplomat in detention


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THE detention of Venezuelan ambassador, Alex Saab has generated heat among three nations, the Venezuelan government, United States and Cape Verde but the seeming softness of African international communities, most especially the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been a curious development.

While the case is still before the ECOWAS Court of Justice and slated to be heard on February 2nd, 2020, an initial order of the court to release the detained businessman, Saab has been ignored by the Cape Verdean government.

The ECOWAS court ruled On December 2nd, 2020 that Saab be released from prison and be placed on house arrest pending judgement on the rights of extradition requested by the U.S.

Since the ECOWAS court order, there has been no comment from the leadership of the regional association.

The AU, for instance, has not made any public comment over the matter despite the Venezuelan government naming Saab as its ambassador to the AU.

The arrest of Alex Saab

Alex Saab, an ally to Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, was arrested by Cape Verde’s security operatives and Interpol earlier in June 2020 when his private jet had a stopover inside the Cape Verdean territory.

He was on his way to Iran for a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Venezuelan government before his arrest.

Since his arrest, Saab has been kept in Cape Verde’s government detention while political and legal struggles linger over who would take custody of the businessman between American and Venezuelan governments.

The legal battles

The immediate past administration of the US-led by Donald Trump had requested Saab’s extradition to the US for money laundering, a move the Venezuelan government faulted with claims that the businessman is its Special Envoy on a“humanitarian mission” to get food and medical supplies before he was arrested by State security operatives.

The US government had earlier sanctioned Saab for allegedly helping Maduro illegally acquire ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ from a food distribution network.

Challenging the move by the US to extradite Saab, the Venezuelan government who recently appointed the detained businessman as ambassador to the African Union (AU).

Femi Falana, Jose M.P. Monteiro, Rutsel S. J Martha and Baltasar R. Garzon who are legal counsels to Saab approached the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court challenging the move to extradite their client, Saab to the US despite being a diplomat.

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The ECOWAS regional court in its ruling on December 2nd, 2020 ordered the immediate release of the envoy from prison and placed him under house arrest for health reasons.

The Court also ordered that extradition hearing be suspended in Cape Verde pending the hearing and determination of the suit before it in Abuja, Nigeria.

However, for over two months since the ruling of the ECOWAS court, the Cape Verdean authority has refused to release Saab from detention.

In a letter signed by the counsels to Saab, the businessman’s legal representatives lamented that Cape Verde is breaching international law by refusing to comply with the ECOWAS order.

“Alex Saab was entitled then, and is entitled now, to the protection of centuries of international law regulating the conduct of diplomacy and the freedom of diplomats to perform their duties free from arrest or detention.

“Cabo Verde’s efforts to deny the Court’s jurisdiction represent a further breach of international law. Cabo Verde’s argument that it has not ratified the Supplementary Protocol is disingenuous and unbecoming of the law-abiding State it claims to be,” the letter read in part.

According to the counsels, Cape Verde’s action in the past few months have created impressions that it intends to exit the ECOWAS.

They further urged the Cape Verdean government to reconsider and obey the court rulings because the continual holding of the ‘diplomat’ is illegal following the ruling.

Read Also: Venezuela offers asylum to Snowden

Defending its position for refusing to release Saab as ordered by the ECOWAS court, the Cape Verdean government argued that it is not in any treaty that binds the country to obey the ruling of an international court.

“Without prejudice to affirming that we are not aware of any notification made to the Government, Supreme Court of Justice, Court of Appeal and Attorney General’s Office about such a decision, which, as is known, has to be done through the proper diplomatic channels and with the required legal formalities, we can say in advance that such a decision does not bind the national courts,” the Cape Verde government argued adding that it only envisaged an economic agreement when it joined the ECOWAS.

“It is not possible to intend such a provision to be applied in our country, when we have never accepted it in our national legal system, through the mechanisms provided for this, since it is a decision not applicable in the legal system of Cape Verde, where, as is known, the ECOWAS Court is not part of the Hierarchy of the Courts, where the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice are at the apex,” the government insisted.

Although the Cape Verdean government sent an attorney to defend its case at the court, it insisted that the Court’s order is not binding on her.

A text message and mail were sent to the AU leadership in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia but as at the time of filing this report, no response has been received.

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