West Africa: Plan In Motion to Extradite Venezuela Ambassador to U.S. as ECOWAS Court Overruled

Published March 18, 2021, 11:26 a.m.

The verdict is in sharp contrast to Monday's judgment of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Mr Saab's arrest, detention and plan by Cape Verdean government to extradite him.

The Cabo Verde's Supreme Court on Wednesday gave an order authorising the extradition of the Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab, to the United States of America.

The verdict is in sharp contrast to Monday's judgment of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Mr Saab's arrest, detention and plan by Cape Verdean government to extradite him.

The ECOWAS Court not only ordered the release of Mr Saab on Monday, it also directed the Cape Verdean government to pay him $200,000 as compensation for his "illegal arrest and detention" and "discontinue all proceedings and processes aimed at extraditing the Applicant to the USA".

The Cape Verdean Supreme Court's judgment on Wednesday said the archipelago country was not legally bound by the regional court's decisions.

The case

Mr Saab was arrested in June 2020 by the archipelago's security operatives at the request of the U.S. through Interpol for alleged money laundering, a charge the diplomat has constantly denied.

He was held in prison until February when he was moved from prison to house arrest, almost two months after ECOWAS Court ruled against such disposition of the Cape Verdean government.

However, the country's Attorney General office, rejected the regional court's jurisdiction over the matter, saying "Cape Verde was not in agreement with the body on the supplementary protocol on the ECOWAS court that empowers the code to entertain human right ramifications."

Ruling on the ensuing dispute, the country's appeal court ruled in support of the government that Cape Verde was not legally bound by ECOWAS Court's decisions, on the grounds that the archipelago country, although a member of ECOWAS, was not a signatory to the 2005 Protocol granting legitimacy to the regional court over fundamental rights matters.

Mr Saab had appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision.

In documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, the Cape Verdean Supreme Court upheld the appeal court's decision insisting that ECOWAS Court's decision was not binding on the country.

The Supreme Court held in its judgment that there was no proof that Mr Saab was on a transit through Cape Verde as a Venezuelan special envoy when he was arrested.

It also said it was not aware of the ECOWAS Court's final judgment, aside from what was reported about the case in the local and foreign media.

In a far-reaching decision on the applicability of the decisions handed down by the ECOWAS Court, the Supreme Court held that Cape Verde was not a signatory to the Protocol of 2005 establishing the regional court, adding that ECOWAS itself is not "a supranational organisation".

By holding ECOWAS to be a non-supranational organisation implies that the country does not accept ECOWAS' power or influence that transcends national boundaries or governments.

"For all the reasons that are exposed to the thesis that intends to see ECOWAS a supranational organisation for the purposes of the provisions of article 12, paragraph 3, of the Constitution of the Republic, it cannot be accepted by the Cape Verdean Judicial Courts," the country's apex court ruled.

It added, "Therefore, as ECOWAS is not a supranational organisation for the time being, and the State of Cape Verde has not even signed the 2005 Protocol, there is no basis for it to be considered linked to such an instrument."

Decision

On the above grounds, the judges of Cape Verde's Supreme Court, João Gon, Anildo Martins and Benfeito Ramos agreed to dismiss Mr Saab's appeal and confirm the appeal court's ruling rejecting ECOWAS Court's decisions as not binding on the country.

The court, therefore, authorised the extradition of Mr Saab to the U.S. where he is expected to stand trial for alleged money laundering.

"Extradition that is now authorised is for the Extradite to be subject to criminal procedure for a single of the crimes attributed to him, in accordance with the guarantee offered by the requesting State," the court ruled.

Alex Saab's lawyer reacts

Reacting to the judgment of Cape Verdean Supreme Court's decision, Mr Saab's lead counsel in the ECOWAS case, Femi Falana, said it was a "day of shame".

He urged the ECOWAS to speak up in order to support the sanctity of its domain.

The human rights lawyer said the decision was handed down in direct defiance of the ruling made by the regional court and in conformity to the government of the country on Monday.

"This is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of disobedience by Cape Verde. It is a Day of Shame for ECOWAS," Mr Falana told PREMIUM TIMES, urging the members of the ECOWAS Commission to make clear their position about the behaviour of Cape Verde.

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"In approving the extradition, Cape Verde is destroying the entire global diplomatic order and the sanctity of diplomatic missions which has been established over several centuries," he added.

Jose-Manuel Monteiro, who has been leading Mr Saab's defence team in Cape Verde was also quoted to have said, "For the Supreme court to deliver a ruling which serves no purpose but satisfy the political avarice of others, is very disappointing."

He noted that it is now up to the ECOWAS Commission to speak up and preserve the integrity and independence of its own court, adding that Cape Verde must not be allowed to subvert the judicial organ of ECOWAS without appropriate sanctions.

"The defence will now appeal today's decision to the Cape Verde Constitution Court and is exploring all other legal options to bring an end to the illegal arrest and extradition process being conducted against Alex Saab," he said.

The fresh development between Cape Verde and Mr Saab is an addition to the growing list of African countries who had flagrantly disobeyed the regional court without punishment for such a member.

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