Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will visit China
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro AFP

The Biden administration has released Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as part of a swap for imprisoned U.S. citizens, the AP reported Wednesday.

The news agency said that, in exchange, Venezuela will "free some, if not all, of the at least 10 U.S. citizens who remain imprisoned" in the country.

Alex Saab was arrested in 2020 in Cape Verde, an archipelago on Africa's Atlantic coast, after the private plane he was flying in stopped to refuel.

He was extradited to America on Oct. 16, 2020 and was accused by the Justice Department of participating in a bribery scheme that started in 2011 and continued for four years.

Prosecutors said that he and his associates allegedly got contracts from the Venezuelan government to build low-income houses. But they took $350 million out of the country just to take advantage of favorable exchange rates.

In Venezuela, Maduro and his allies described his arrest as part of an "economic war" that America is waging on the country. In the month following his extradition, Maduro said that Saab was "chased down, kidnapped and tortured for helping Venezuela."

Saab's lawyers sought to convince the judge that the businessman was on an ultra-secret mission to ally Iran and, because of that, he had diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

A young man performs a stunt while activists of the "Free Alex Saab" get ready for a movement
A young man performs a stunt with his bicycle in front a billboard with Alex Saab's face. Photo by Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images

However, Judge Robert Scola dismissed the arguments by saying that since the U.S. does not recognize the legitimacy of Maduro's second term, the court couldn't recognize his close ally as a representative of his government.

Scola wrote that Maduro's regime "has been deemed 'illegitimate,'" and that any claim to "diplomatic immunity asserted" by a representative of his regime must also be "considered illegitimate."

However, the AP recalled that, in a closed door hearing last year, Saab's defense said he had been secretly talking to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, "helping authorities untangle corruption in Maduro's inner circle and agreeing to forfeit millions of dollars in illegal proceeds from corrupt state contracts."

Washington lauded Saab's arrest in 2020 as a major accomplishment in its actions to unseat Maduro while the Trump regime played the Colombian-born businessman as a bag man for Maduro who profiteered from state contracts when the South American country suffered widespread hunger.

In Venezuela, the formerly anonymous Saab has shot to fame over the case. Government-sponsored rallies, books, and documentaries portray him as a kidnapping victim of the U.S.

The decision is likely to anger the Venezuelan opposition, involved in parallel negotiations to guarantee presidential elections next year but has seen the Maduro government ban María Corina Machado, who won a recent, wide-ranging primary election, from running.

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