The absence of a Cape Verdean judge in the ECOWAS court in Abuja, on Thursday, stalled the case of an embattled Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab.
Januária Costa, who is one of the three judges presiding over the case at the international court, cited ‘coronavirus pandemic’ as the reason for her absence even though the case was scheduled to hold virtually.
Mr Saab, an ally of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, has spent over six months in Cape Verdean prison after his arrest in June 2020, raising questions around his legal and diplomatic immunity as a Special Envoy on a humanitarian mission to Iran.
He was arrested on the request of the INTERPOL and was to be extradited to the United States of America for alleged financial crimes.
Against the background of the U.S. extradition requests and rulings by two lower Cape Verdean courts, the ECOWAS court in its December 2, 2020 ruling said all extradition moves be suspended till its next hearing schedule for today but this could not hold.
PREMIUM TIMES, which has been following this legal and diplomatic battle, reported the unwillingness of Cape Verdean authorities to adhere to the ECOWAS ruling.
“It is not possible to intend such a provision to be applied in our country, when we have never accepted it in our national legal system, through the mechanisms provided for this, since it is a decision not applicable in the legal system of Cape Verde, where, as is known, the ECOWAS Court is not part of the Hierarchy of the Courts, where the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Justice are at the apex (art. 214, paragraph I and a), 215 and 216, CRCV),” an exclusive document from the country’s Attorney General, Luis Landim, showed.
Meanwhile, a Cape Verde court, on Thursday evening, ordered that Mr Saab should be placed under house arrest and allowed to receive medical care.
PREMIUM TIMES reports that the detained diplomat has not been released 24 hours after the court issued the order.
His Cape Verde defence counsel, Pinto Monteiro, in an interview on Friday evening, confirmed that his client is still in prison ”because the police said they are yet to receive notification from the court to release him”.
“Prison services on the island of Sal received the document, which was also addressed to the local head of the Judiciary Police, Mr Natalino Correia, who however says that he did not receive it, despite the information we have on how it happened.
”This circumstance prevents us from proceeding with the transfer process, after our services have already identified two rooms and a hotel with all the conditions, namely security, to welcome our client,” Mr Monteiro said.
He also expressed fears that ”Mr Saab may be kidnapped by the U.S. while under house arrest.”
(Editor’s Note: This story was updated to remove the reference to senior Nigerian lawyer Femi Falana after he explained that the source referenced in the removed paragraph is not a member of his legal team).
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