As alleged Maduro financier Alex Saab awaits potential extradition to the United States, the Venezuelan government decided that a concert catered by a company linked to Saab’s illicit activities would be an effective way to try and secure his release.
The officially sanctioned public spectacle was held on February 20 in Caracas’ Diego Ibarra Plaza in order to condemn the so-called international “blockade” on the Venezuelan government and to demand the release of Alex Saab, a close business associate of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused of illegally financing the regime.
The concert was held with seemingly little regard for COVID-19 related safety measures. Photos from the concert show only scattered mask-wearing among the hundreds of people packed into the plaza.
Attendees were gifted bags of food from Salva Foods, a company closely tied to Saab, in order to encourage their participation in the event. Earlier this month, Salva Foods was accused of forcing its employees to publicly express support for Saab, such as by attending protests and events in his name.
In addition to the concert, the Venezuelan government has championed Saab’s cause by enthusiastically promoting #FreeAlexSaab on Twitter through official accounts such as that of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela – PSUV).
Interestingly, a preliminary InSight Crime review of #FreeAlexSaab indicates that a significant number of the accounts tweeting the hashtag are either bots or Nigerian accounts, at least two of which were confirmed to be PR content creators or social media managers.
#FreeAlexSaab has also appeared as graffiti in Caracas in recent weeks, despite his relative obscurity to many Venezuelans. “People’s savior? I don’t even know who he is,” Caracas resident Yanira Rodriguez told Bloomberg in a puzzled reaction to the graffiti.
InSight Crime Analysis
The concert illustrates how the Venezuelan government is willing to double down on its support for Alex Saab, who was detained June 2020 in Cape Verde and is desperately fighting extradition to the US for allegedly laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for the Bolivarian regime.
That such an audacious concert was held on the government’s dime is ironic considering how, only a week earlier, the United Nations had released a report decrying the devastating effects of international sanctions on the livelihoods of everyday Venezuelan citizens.
SEE ALSO: Álex Saab Profile
Saab is accused of helping the Venezuelan government evade international sanctions by leveraging his business connections. He was allegedly instrumental in negotiating an elaborate gold-for-food scheme with Turkey and an oil deal with Iran. He has ties to a variety of economic sectors that can be exploited for money laundering, including agriculture, construction, oil, mining, and food production.
In one publicized case, Saab has been accused of defrauding and corrupting Venezuela’s food aid program for the poor, the Local Committees for Supply and Production (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción – CLAP), through companies such as Salva Foods.
Saab is currently awaiting a final decision from the Cabo Verde courts on the US extradition request. If Saab is extradited to the United States and chooses to cooperate with US authorities, the resulting information could prove exceptionally embarrassing for the Venezuelan government and disrupt its illicit revenue sources.