Alex Saab pleads "not guilty" to money laundering charges
The Colombian businessman appeared in court in Miami and pleaded "not guilty" to the only crime he was charged with weeks ago.
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On Monday, Nov. 15, Colombian businessman Alex Saab, alleged front man for Nicolás Maduro, pleaded "not guilty" to money laundering charges in the United States during a hearing held in a federal courtroom in Miami, Florida.
In a brief hearing of about 15 minutes for a formal arraignment, his defense attorney, Neil Schuster, took up the argument that Saab, 49, is a diplomat of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and therefore has immunity.
In a 12-page motion, Saab's defense assured that the Colombian businessman "is not seeking to eliminate public access, which is a constitutional right, but is asking the court to fulfill a gatekeeping role to prevent further violation of the regulations," which prohibit photos or videos in court hearings.
The judge in charge of the case is Robert N. Scola Jr., but the businessman appeared before Judge Alicia Otazo Reyes for the arraignment, wearing beige overalls and his hair tied back, handcuffed hands and feett along with five other inmates. Outside the courthouse in downtown Miami a dozen Maduro supporters demanded the defendant's freedom.
The Barranquilla native is accused of laundering close to $350 million through corrupt businesses, in which he allegedly bribed Venezuelan officials and falsified documents to obtain multi-million dollar contracts for the construction of affordable housing in Venezuela.
Saab faces a sentence of about 20 years if found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering — a sentence that may be reduced if he reaches a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Saab is linked to several companies, but his main link with Maduro is through Group Grand Limited (GGL), which is accused of selling food to the regime at subsidized prices for distribution in poor neighborhoods.