Cape Verde: Court approves extradition of Alex Saab contrary to ECOWAS court ruling

The Cape Verde Supreme Court has authorized the extradition of Venezuela’s Alex Saab to the US.

The decision comes barely two days after the ECOWAS court in Abuja also delivered a judgement ordering Cape Verde to halt any extradition proceedings.

The ECOWAS court’s decision was primarily based on the fact that Cape Verde arrested Mr. Saab a day before an Interpol Red Alert was actually issued, meaning that the country acted illegally and arbitrarily.

But in a contrary ruling, the Supreme Court of Cape Verde on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, said it “confirms the judicial authorization for the extradition of the defendant to the U.S.”

“The extradition that is now authorized is for the extradited person to be subject to a criminal process for only one of the crimes that are being attributed, in accordance with the guarantee offered by the requesting state,” the ruling said.

The decision by the court now sets the controversial Alex Saab case on a different trajectory as it appears to render as not-binding the decision of the ECOWAS court.

Alex Saab, closely associated with the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela was arrested in Cape Verde on June 12, 2020, on the orders of the US.

The US subsequently made a request for him to be extradited to face charges of corruption and money laundering on their soil.

Although Cape Verde accepted the request, it was stopped from carrying it out immediately due to court proceedings including the one at the ECOWAS Court.

But its Supreme Court has upheld the decision to extradite him.

The court challenged many of the claims of Alex Saab’s defence team including their point that he was a special envoy and his arrest was a violation of his status as a diplomat.

In its ruling, the court said the status of the special envoy, based on existing law could only be respected by the sending country and the recipient country of the individual, in this case, Venezuela and Iran where Mr. Saab was on his way to before he was arrested.

It said Cape Verde was not obliged to recognize that status especially as there is no evidence that Cape Verde consented to Alex Saab passing through its territory as a special envoy.

“…for the time being, there is no evidence in the process that the State of Cape Verde has consented to the Applicant transit through its territory with the status of special envoy.”

“And, without that consent, the Cape Verdean Courts cannot recognize the Claimant’s status as special envoy, which means that he does not enjoy the inviolability and immunities on which he is based, based on the United Nations Convention on Missions. 1969 Specials,” the court said in its ruling.

ECOWAS court’s decision

The Cape Verde court in its ruling said the decision of the ECOWAS court was not binding on Cape Verde as it has not signed the Protocol that grants legitimacy to the ECOWAS court on the issue of an alleged violation of fundamental rights.

Extradition decision to be appealed

Meanwhile, the defence counsel of Alex Saab has served notice that they would appeal the decision of the court.

They described the court’s ruling as “extraordinary and unprecedented” as it goes to directly challenge the ruling of the ECOWAS court.

“There can be no debate about the binding nature of the ECOWAS Court’s decision on Cape Verde. I call upon members of the ECOWAS Commission to stand up make clear their opposition to the behaviour of Cape Verde,” said Femi Falana who led Alex Saab’s ECOWAS defence team.

“In approving the extradition, Cape Verde is destroying the entire global diplomatic order and the sanctity of diplomatic missions which has been established over several centuries. For the Supreme Court to deliver a ruling which serves no purpose but satisfies the political avarice of others is very disappointing” commented Dr Jose-Manuel Pinto Monteiro who has been leading Alex Saab’s defence team in Cape Verde.

The defence team has up to March 31 to appeal the Cape Verde court’s decision, and it says it will take that chance and explore all other legal options to stop Alex Saab’s extradition.

Cape Verde’s constitutional court will have up to April 14 to deliver judgement on the appeal if it is filed by Mr. Saab’s team.

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