Nigerian human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has charged the President of Cape Verde, Jorge Fonseca, to follow what he “preaches” on West African integration.
Mr Falana gave this charge against the background of perceived duplicity in Mr Fonseca’s call for West African integration compared with his government’s refusal to respect the ECOWAS Court’s judgment ordering the release of the detained Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab.
The human rights advocate, who led Mr Saab’s legal team at the ECOWAS Court, spoke barely 24 hours after the Cape Verde’s president reaffirmed what he called the “firm will” of his country to intensify regional integration.
Mr Fonseca sought increase in “virtuous forms of movement of persons and goods” in his message to Nana Akufo-Ado, chairman of ECOWAS heads of states, in celebration of the 46th anniversary of the creation of the regional community.
Aside from garnering prominence in Nigerian media space over the controversial detention of Mr Saab, the archipelago West African country recently also made headlines for ‘unjustly’ barring three Nigerians from entry into the country while allowing white foreign travellers in.
PREMIUM TIMES also reported complaints of unfair treatment by Nigerians living in Cape Verde.
Reacting to this, Mr Falana, in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES, expressed skepticism over Mr Fonseca’s comment which he described as a possible platitude on the occasion of ECOWAS Day.
“I can only hope that Cape Verde will practise what it preaches. President Fonseca can show that his words are not just platitudes on the occasion of ECOWAS Day by ensuring that Prime Minister Ulisses Correia and his ministers start respecting all of the institutions of ECOWAS,” Mr Saab’s defense counsel said.
He reiterated in his response that the country has keenly disrespected the ECOWAS court over the “unrespected judgement” on the Venezuelan diplomat case who would clock 11 months in Cape Verde’s detention in June 2021.
The President Nicolas Maduro’s ally was arrested in June 2020 in Cape Verde at the request of the United States for alleged money laundering and other financial crimes. Since then, there have been legal and diplomatic tussles between the parties involved.
“Cape Verde has, in the matter of H.E. Alex Saab, shown nothing but disdain and disrespect for the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the binding nature of its decisions,” Mr Falana said.
He added, “I urge President Fonseca, particularly as a fellow lawyer, to ensure that Cape Verde ends its contempt of the ECOWAS Court and immediately releases H.E. Alex Saab, which the Honourable Court ordered on 15 March 2021.”
He also advised the country to withdraw its statement that it is not bounded by the provisions of the Supplementary Protocol of the Ecowas Court “which was approved by all the member states of the Ecowas at the Summit of Heads of State and Governments held in Accra, Ghana on January 19, 2005.”
Mr Falana had in March filed a motion at the ECOWAS Commission praying that a sanction be imposed on Cape Verde for snubbing its regional court’s judgement. In the motion, he requested an imposition of travel ban throughout the ECOWAS member states against some Cape Verde government officials and their family members.
How Cape Verde snubbed ECOWAS judgement
The ECOWAS court, in a March 15, 2021 judgement, ordered Cape Verde to release detained Venezuelan diplomat, Mr Saab, and pay him $200,000 compensation for his controversial detention on the West African Island.
The court, having established that his arrest was carried out without the existence of an INTERPOL red notice and an arrest warrant, also directed the country not to extradite him to the U.S. as planned.
But the Cape Verdean Supreme Court subsequently approved Mr Saab’s extradition to the U.S. in disregard for the ECOWAS Court of Justice’s judgment, ruling that the country was not bound by the decisions of the regional court.
This, the Cape Verdean Supreme Court said, was because Cape Verde was not a signatory to the Protocol establishing the regional court.
Cape Verde, through its Prosecutor General’s Office, authorised Mr Saab’s extradition to the United States, a fatal blow to the latter’s legal team’s recent victory.
A U.S. District Court in Florida has since declared Mr Saab a fugitive.
The Southern District Court of Florida had first designated Mr Saab a fugitive on August 26, 2019 following his failure to appear to face the money laundering charges filed against him by U.S. authorities on July 25, 2019.
Mr Saab later submitted a motion urging the court to cancel the fugitive designation.
But the judge, Robert Scola Jr., in a ruling delivered on March 18, dismissed Mr Saab’s motion, declaring that the applicant would not be allowed to challenge his fugitive status and the validity of the charges pending against him without his physical presence in court.
“Saab Moran is precluded from attacking his fugitive status and indictment until he is physically present in this jurisdiction,” Mr Scola wrote in the judgment, a copy of which PREMIUM TIMES obtained on Thursday.
“Saab Moran is a fugitive,” Mr Scola declared in a reaffirmation of the court’s previous declaration.
“A party is a fugitive if he intentionally avoids arrest by fleeing, hiding within, or remaining absent from the jurisdiction,” the judge added.
$350 million money laundering case against Saab
The U.S. government on July 25, 2019 filed one count of conspiring to launder money and seven counts of money laundering against Mr Saab and Alvaro Pulido Vargas, also known as ‘German Enrique Rubio Salas’
The authorities alleged in the charges seen by PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Saab and his co-defendant, Mr Vargas, entered into a contract with the Government of Venezuela to build low-income housing.
Mr Saab and other co-conspirators allegedly paid bribes to Venezuelan government officials to approve false invoices for services not performed and to approve the purchase of goods never provided.
It was alleged that as a result of these bribes, Mr Saab and his co-defendant received payment on the fraudulent invoices.
Investigators alleged that Mr Saab and his co-conspirators laundered the proceeds of their scheme through wire transfers totaling $350,041,500.
Mr Saab and Mr Vargas were accused of distributing the funds using bank accounts in the Southern District of Florida.
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