US judge dismisses most money laundering charges against Maduro ally Saab

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A US judge in Florida on Monday dismissed money laundering counts against Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, but he remains accused of one count of conspiracy to launder money, a court filing showed.

The order was issued by US District Judge Robert Scola. The conspiracy charge that remains carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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Saab was extradited last month to the United States from Cape Verde, where he was detained in the summer of 2020 on a US warrant.

Prosecutors say Saab, a Colombia-born businessman and top dealmaker for Maduro's socialist government, siphoned around $350 million out of Venezuela via the United States as part of a bribery scheme linked to Venezuela's state-controlled exchange rate.

In a Monday filing, US prosecutors requested that seven of the initial eight charges contained in a July 2019 indictment be dropped to comply with assurances that officials made to the government of Cape Verde in seeking Saab's extradition.

Prosecutors said officials promised Cape Verde that Saab would only be charged on a single count to comply with the archipelago nation's laws regarding the maximum term of imprisonment.

One of Saab's lawyers, Henry Bell, told Reuters last week that his client would plead not guilty at an arraignment that had been originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed to Nov. 15. Bell declined to comment on Monday's decision.

The case has strained already frayed relations between Washington and Caracas.

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