Extradition of businessman to US could reveal Turkish-Venezuelan collusion to evade sanctions (FDD)
Extradition of Colombian-born businessman Alex Saab indicted by the United States for helping the Venezuelan regime escape sanctions could expose similar Turkish plans to evade American sanctions, writes Aykan Erdemir for the Foundation for the defense of democracies. Erdemir’s article describes how Turkey helped Venezuela evade sanctions through a so-called “gold-for-food” program, in which Ankara feeds Caracas worshipers as part of a corrupt subsidy program in return for ‘gold. The program resembled a gas-for-gold program that Ankara had previously entered into with Iran to allow that country to bypass US sanctions. Erdemir predicts that Saab’s extradition, coupled with US efforts to extradite a Turkish money laundering suspect named Sezgin Baran from Austria, “could help expose a vast interconnected web of illicit Iranian, Turkish and financial transactions. Venezuelan “.
His item is republished in full below:
Constitutional Court of Cape Verde Posted a September 7 decision paving the way for the extradition of Alex Saab, a Designated in the United States Colombian-born businessman as American prosecutors indicted in 2019 for facilitating the sanctions evasion and corruption programs of the Nicolás Maduro regime. Saab’s extradition to the United States and his Miami court trial could reveal other details not only about Venezuela but also reported Turkish plans to escape US sanctions.
Cape Verdean authorities stopped Saab in June 2020 on a US warrant when his private jet landed to refuel on the West African island as it was on its way to Iran, would have exchange Venezuelan gold for Iranian gasoline and other petroleum products. Saab lawyers later claims that he was on mission in Iran as Maduro’s special envoy and should therefore benefit from diplomatic immunity, but their callsfailed to free him.
United States and his allies have targeted the Maduro regime with a wide range of sanctions. In November 2018, President Donald Trump Posted a decree to prohibit American citizens and entities of the financial involvement in the Venezuelan gold sector. In the following March, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Minerven, the Venezuelan state-owned gold mining company.
In December 2018, during a visit to Venezuela, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammedWashington’s sanctions against Venezuela, which the Turkish leader was already helping Maduro escape. Saab was at the heart of a deal in which Caracas shipped gold to Ankara in exchange for food to be distributed to the regime loyalists in the context of corruption grant program. Bloomberg describe the agreement as “a multilevel system built on a criminal foundation”. In practice, the gold for food the exchange looks like Erdoğan’s gas for gold exchange program which allowed Tehran to bypass US sanctions at the height of Washington’s efforts to thwart the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.
In 2018, an Istanbul company set up shortly after Maduro’s October 2017 meeting with Erdoğan in Ankara helped the Venezuelan regime transfer $ 900 million in gold to Turkey. Venezuelan authorities declared in July 2018 they started refining gold in Turkey to avoid the risk of asset seizures in Switzerland, which cooperated with US authorities. In January 2019, Tareck El Aissami, then Venezuelan Minister of Industries and National Production, known for his ties to Iran and Hezbollah and to be sanctioned by the US Treasury Department “for playing an important role in international drug trafficking” – visited gold refineries in Turkey.
Erdoğan’s contempt for US sanctions against Venezuela sparked Washington’s backlash. In January 2019, Marshall Billingslea, then Assistant Secretary to the Treasury for Terrorist Financing, warned, “We are examining the nature of the Turkish-Venezuelan business activity, and if we assess a violation of our sanctions, we will obviously take action.” Six months later, the Treasury designated Mulberry Proje Yatirim, based in Istanbul, owned by an associate of Saab, for facilitating payments made as part of a “corrupt network for the sale of [Venezuelan] gold in Turkey. Speaking to a foundation for the defense of democracies panel the day before the sanctions announcement, Elliott Abrams, then State Department Special Representative for Venezuela, said: “Venezuela must go to places willing to trade gold illegally – that is. Turkey and Iran.
Saab extradition from Cape Verde, combined with US prosecution efforts extradite the Turk money laundering suspect Sezgin Baran Korkmaz from Austria could help expose a vast interconnected web of illicit Iranian, Turkish and Venezuelan financial transactions. Investigative journalists alleged that Korkmaz and his associates Connections to the Maduro regime and allegedly chartered flights for Venezuelan minister El Aissami. If Saab and Korkmaz both become witnesses to the state in US courts, they could prove how Ankara, Caracas and Tehran have colluded over the years to undermine US sanctions and threatened the integrity of the global financial system by offering a safe haven for money launderers. .