Venezuelan businessman, Alex Saab is to be released and compensated by Cape Verde after being held in that country since June 2020.
This is according to a judgement by the ECOWAS Court in Abuja.
The court, presided over by Hon Justice Edward Amoako Asante ruled that Cape Verde acted arbitrarily and illegally by arresting Mr. Saab.
The ruling of the court marks a major milestone in the ensuing diplomatic row between Venezuela, Cape Verde and the United States of America.
Alex Saab was arrested by local police in Cape Verde based on a request by the US government which has accused him of money laundering and corruption.
Saab’s aircraft had stopped in Cape Verde to refuel on a diplomatic mission to Iran on behalf of the Venezuelan government when the arrest took place.
The US subsequently sent in a request for Saab’s extradition. Cape Verde approved it but has not been able to carry it out due to legal challenges by Saab’s lawyers.
Efforts by his lawyers to secure his release amidst claims of harsh treatments he is facing in Cape Verde had yielded little results as they claim that Cape Verde was bent on frustrating them by among other things trying to interfere with their work.
At the ECOWAS court where hearings on the legitimacy of Cape Verde’s action was being challenged, Alex Saab’s lead counsel, Femi Falana argued that his client enjoyed diplomatic immunity and could therefore not be subjected to imprisonment as Cape Verde had done.
He further indicated that the said INTERPOL Red Alert that empowers Cape Verde to effect the arrest was void as it was issued after the arrest.
“No objections have been raised to Mr Saab’s appointment by the African Union. It is not a matter for Cape Verde or any other country for that matter to raise issue with whom Venezuela as a sovereign state appoints as its ambassador. Equally, it is for Iran to determine if it recognizes Mr Saab as a Special Envoy to Iran and not any third party,” Mr. Falana argued at the last court hearing.
Henrique Borges, representing Cape Verde also argued in February that there was no evidence to prove Alex Saab’s diplomatic status hence the actions taken by the government were justified.
He further questioned the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS court in adjudicating the matter, indicating that Cape Verde has not signed or bound itself by the additional protocols of ECOWAS.
But the court on Monday, March 15, 2021 ruled that Cape Verde erred in carrying out the arrest.
It contended that as of the day Cape Verde arrested Mr. Saab [June 12, 2020] no INTERPOL Red Alert had been issued.
The court found that the Red Alert was issued on June 13, 2020, a day after the arrest.
It has since ordered Cape Verde to release Alex Saab and cease all processes to extradite him to the US.
Cape Verde has also been fined US$ 200,000 to be paid to Alex Saab as compensation.