By Stansfield Smith – Dec 13, 2022
On Tuesday, December 13, the second day of the hearing (see first day report here), the prosecution presented its case why the US rejects Saab’s status as a diplomat.
The prosecution presentation initially focused on Saab being a “cooperative source” for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) between 2016-2019, meeting with DEA agents several times. The prosecutor asserted that Saab explained to the DEA how he conducted business, how he paid off Venezuelan government officials, and that he paid the DEA millions of dollars.
The Saab defense did not respond to this, an issue that is entirely out of the domain of this hearing. The corporate media has covered this in the past (here and here). A lawyer for Saab, David Rivkin, stated months ago that Saab met with US law enforcement officials to explain that his companies had done nothing wrong, adding that Venezuelan officials were fully aware of his discussions with DEA agents.
The prosecutors introduced only one witness, a young man from the FBI computer technology division for the cybercriminal squad. He addressed one issue, the discrepancy between a printed version and an online version of the Gaceta Oficial de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, the official Venezuelan government means of disseminating official decisions, from April 26, 2018, The printed version of April 26, 2018 had no mention of Saab being appointed Special Envoy, while the online version of the same date was shown to have been altered four times, the last time on March 31, 2022. In one of those four times, the fact that Alex Saab was appointed a Special Envoy by President Maduro was added. Evidently, the US government claim would be that Saab was appointed Special Envoy long after he had been arrested on June 12, 2020, and the Gaceta was altered to show this.
The Saab defense questioned the FBI agent whether alterations had occurred in other online versions of the Gaceta from other dates, and if this were common practice. The agent did not know. When asked what were the Venezuelan government rules and regulations concerning changing the Gaceta print version and the online version, the FBI also could not answer.
The defense then introduced as evidence a scholarly report from New York University from March 2022, stating that Venezuelan government websites concerning new laws, government decrees, and appointments were not being updated systematically.
The Saab defense then had Hector Pena, former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice and presently legal expert and advisor to several government ministries, as a witness. He explained the difference between a permanent and temporary diplomat, with a Special Envoy, a person on a specific mission for a specific period of time, being in the latter category. Permanent diplomats are approved by the National Assembly while temporary ones are appointed by the President or the Minister of Foreign Affairs. When asked if Venezuelan law requires the appointment of Special Envoy be made in writing by the President, Hector Pena said no, the government is not required to publish the appointment of Special Envoys in the government Gaceta, that a temporary diplomat appointment does not appear in the Gaceta means nothing, and that the President may decide to publish this information in the Gaceta at any time.
Hector Pena was then questioned on regulations concerning Venezuelan diplomatic passports. He said they are not required for travel abroad on a diplomatic mission. He even declared that a person can own a diplomatic passport without being a diplomat. Pena stated the official document signifying diplomatic designation is that of the President of the Republic naming a person one.
We can conclude, then, that discrepancies between printed and online versions of the Gaceta have no relevance to Saab’s status as a diplomat, nor does the fact that Saab traveled on an expired diplomatic passport when he was seized in Cape Verde under US orders on June 12, 2020. What is relevant to determining Alex Saab’s diplomatic status is President Nicolás Maduro naming Alex Saab a Special Envoy, and the court hearing has introduced into evidence letters by President Maduro naming Alex Saab as a Special Envoy.
The prosecution has never asserted in this hearing that Nicolás Maduro is not the President of Venezuela.
The hearing has been delayed until the last Saab defense witness can be questioned, next Tuesday December 20.
If the law and evidence were followed, the US prosecution will most certainly lose their case. The judge would declare Alex Saab does have diplomatic immunity, and must be freed. Of course, the prosecution could appeal the decision. But this is a political trial. If the US government refuses to recognize his diplomatic immunity, they are signaling to Venezuela that the blockade will continue in force. If the US government relents, they are signaling they are open to changing that heartless policy.
We must also ask the question, given there are US citizens, possibly agents, in Venezuelan prisons: If the US government expected to lose the case and free Alex Saab, why did they not use him while they had him and swap him in September or October this year for these US prisoners in Venezuela? Why would they just free him and send him back to Venezuela when they could have done that?
Stansfield Smith is a Chicago based anti-imperialist activist. He was active for over a decade in the Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5. His work is now on ChicagoALBASolidarity.wordpress.com. He has written on Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and on North Korea for Counterpunch and others.
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