Venezuela Stages Mega-Concert for Release of Accused Money Launderer

People walk near a graffiti demanding Colombian businessman Alex Saab's freedom, in Caraca
YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro staged a mega-concert in Caracas this weekend to call for the release of Alex Saab, a Colombian national arrested in Cape Verde last summer for alleged money laundering connected to his business dealings with the Venezuelan government.

The concert calling for Saab’s release was held in the Venezuelan national capital on February 20 in Diego Ibarra square. Video footage of the event shows hundreds of people squeezed into an open-air space in front of a stage where musical artists performed songs. Photos of the concert show nearly all attendees wearing T-shirts printed with Saab’s face on them and bearing the hashtag “#FreeAlexSaab.”

“It should be noted that, at the end of the concert, citizens lined up around the square to collect a bag of food,” the Colombian news site NTN24 reported on February 21. Most of the people roped into attending the concert gathered shoulder-to-shoulder both inside Diego Ibarra square and in food lines afterward “without complying with the basic biosecurity measures to avoid coronavirus infections,” NTN24 further noted.

The event’s failure to observe coronavirus prevention measures contradicts the public statements of Maduro’s regime, which last month urged Venezuelans to adhere to “seven days of radical quarantine” from January 4-10 as part of a “necessary” effort to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus in the country. The “7 +7” plan includes a week-long quarantine requiring Venezuelans to live in self-imposed lockdown for seven days, followed by seven days of relaxed restrictions allowing people to resume normal activities with some limitations. Observers have criticized the jarring scheme, as it forces Venezuelans in and out of strict quarantine life; the Venezuelan government has yet to provide any proof of the “7+7” plan’s efficacy in reducing coronavirus transmission.

Maduro’s regime has officially reported 136,545 cases and 1,320 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus so far, although the Venezuelan government has been accused of lying about the nation’s true coronavirus caseload throughout the pandemic.

An alleged financier to the Maduro regime, Alex Saab, was arrested on the West African island of Cape Verde on June 12, 2020, while making a fuel stop on a private plane following a request by the U.S. government via Interpol. A U.S. federal court later indicted Saab in Florida on federal money-laundering charges. The U.S. government accuses Saab of “bribing Venezuelan government officials and funneling more than $350 million to overseas accounts. In 2019 Saab was sanctioned by the U.S. for corruptly helping Maduro’s regime and others make hundreds of millions of dollars from a food-distribution network intended to serve the hungry, charges his lawyers deny,” Bloomberg recalled last month.

Graffiti of Saab’s face and messages demanding his freedom were mysteriously spraypainted on several buildings along Caracas’s main avenues earlier this month ahead of a key hearing on Saab’s alleged role in bribing Venezuelan government officials on February 5 in Cape Verde.

“The people are with Alex Saab” and “Freedom for Venezuela’s diplomat, fighter and compatriot,” read some of the graffitied statements.

Saab has been detained in Cape Verde since last summer pending an extradition request from the U.S. A lawyer for Saab argued his client holds “diplomatic immunity” while appealing the U.S.’s extradition request during the February 5 hearing in the West African country.

The Maduro regime “admitted Saab was a ‘Venezuelan agent’ and said the U.S. was trying to interfere with the nation’s business after his arrest” in June 2020, according to Bloomberg. “Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza warned him of his duty to maintain confidentiality of his dealings on behalf of the country if he were to be extradited to the U.S. in a letter filed in court.”

Amid a dire shortage of foreign exchange in Venezuela in 2018, Saab collaborated with members of Maduro’s regime to sell Venezuelan gold to Turkey, the U.S. government has alleged.

Maduro’s regime seemingly convinced hundreds of Venezuelans to squeeze into the February 20 concert calling for Saab’s release in Caracas.


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