The Falana & Falana law firm, responsible for the defense of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, challenged the charges against him before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh US Circuit, pursuant to the decision of a US District Judge in Miami, who refused to recognize Saab’s diplomatic immunity from US legal procedures.
As reported by the international news agencies EFE and Associated Press, the judge refused to consider Alex Saab’s diplomatic immunity, based on the doctrine of “fugitive disentitlement,” which is not applicable to the case of the Venezuelan diplomat as he never fled the United States or the police authorities of that country.
Alex Saab was illegally detained in Cape Verde in June 2020 at the request of the US authorities, when his plane stopped to refuel. At that time, the Venezuelan Special Diplomatic Envoy was traveling to Iran on a diplomatic mission to seek humanitarian aid amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In international law, the rule is well established that diplomats traveling from their country of origin to a foreign post, either as special envoys or as part of a permanent mission, enjoy immunity from imprisonment or detention. Consequently, as the diplomat’s defense team emphasized, his extradition to the United States is illegal, as well as his detention.
Alex Saab’s defense team tried to raise this point with the Miami district judge, who refused to consider his immunity until he consents to appear in person before the judge in the United States. The judge based his decision on the doctrine of “fugitive disentitlement,” described in the legal team’s statement as a “judge-made rule stating that individuals who have fled the court’s authority cannot raise legal arguments until they have been physically brought before the court.”
In the initial brief presented by Falana & Falana in the Court of Appeal, they confirmed that:
Mr. Saab has made plain that he is not a fugitive from the United States and that, as Venezuela’s Special Envoy to Iran, he is a diplomatic Head of Mission under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the United States Diplomatic Relations Act, which implements US treaty obligations under that Convention. In fact, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that Special Envoys like Mr. Saab are entitled to immunity in a case decided in 1984, Abdulaziz v. Meto. Dade County, 741 F.2d 1328 (11th Cir. 1984). This case constitutes binding precedent on both the District Judge and the Court of Appeals.
Accordingly, Mr. Saab has asked the Court of Appeals to reject the District Court’s application of the Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine and to rule that he is entitled to immunity from arrest, detention, and extradition to the United States, dismissing the case against him.
Featured image: Street painting in Caracas referring to the violations of Alex Saab’s human rights by the Cape Verdean government. File photo.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune