The defence team of Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab, has got a significant procedural victory in the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Saab was arrested on June 12, 2020, after his private jet made a stopover at Cape Verde on his way to Iran for a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Venezuelan government.
The businessman is caught up in a feud between Venezuela, his country, and the US.
The US put pressure on Cape Verde to arrest Saab with plans of extraditing him to face corruption charges.
But Venezuela President, Nicolas Maduro, who recently appointed Saab as ambassador to the African Union (AU) kicked against the move.
Dr Jose Manuel Pinto Monteiro, Lead Cape Verde counsel for Saab said the team was hopeful that the August 6 judgement could lead to the recognition of his diplomatic immunity by the court.
Monteiro said “In effect, the Honourable Court has issued an order, indicating that the appeal will proceed to the merits stage, and has ordered that the Department of Justice file its response within 30 days.
“My US colleagues have assured me that this preliminary ruling removes a major procedural hurdle and also indicates the 11th Circuit’s strong interest in the fundamental issue of Mr Saab’s diplomatic immunity.
“The Defense Team wishes to clarify a specific point regarding the process underway with the 11th District Court of Appeal. The Department of Justice has been arguing that Mr Saab’s diplomatic status has not been registered/accepted by the US Department of State.
“The Defense Team respectfully points out that the State Department of the United States does not serve as a global register of all diplomats in the world. Indeed, there is no process by which a Special Envoy or a resident ambassador from one foreign country to another (and where the United States is neither the sending country nor the receiving country) is required to seek any kind of registration or “anointment”, as the DOJ would have the Court believe, with the US Department of State.”
Also speaking, Femi Falana, Lead ECOWAS counsel for Alex Saab said, “With the development in the 11th Circuit, the situation can be summed up in the following way. If the Honourable Court decides that Alex Saab is Venezuela’s Special Envoy and therefore entitled to immunity, the US indictment would be quashed, and the United States would be forced to withdraw its extradition request and Mr Saab would be immediately released.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (which ranks in seniority to the Supreme Court of Justice in Cabo Verde) is one of the thirteen intermediate courts of appeals within the U.S. federal judicial system.
Federal courts in the United States are divided by geography into 89 districts within the 50 states and Washington, DC.
After the 11th Circuit issues a definitive ruling in Saab’s case, it is subject to the certiorari review by the Supreme Court that is the highest judicial institution in the United States.