The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court sitting in Abuja on Monday described the detention of ex-Venezuelan diplomat, Alex Saab, in Cape Verde as illegal and awarded him $200,000.
Ruling in the case titled ECW/CCJ/APP/43/20: Alex SAAB v. REPUBLIC OF CAPE VERDE, the court held that Saab was unlawfully and arbitrarily arrested.
Counsel for Saab, Femi Falana, claimed that his client was a diplomat at the time of his arrest and therefore enjoyed diplomatic immunity and inviolability and could not be subjected to imprisonment and legal proceedings by Cape Verde.
Falana also made a case for the unlawful arrest and detention of his client.
While delivering her judgement, Justice Januaria Tavares Costa, interpreted for by Justice Amaoko Asante, dismissed the first and second claims stating that Saab could not claim diplomatic immunity as his papers had expired at the time of his arrest.
She also struck out the second claim, stating that there are international conditions for being a special envoy.
However, on the third count, Costa said Saab was arrested on the 12th of June by the Cape Verdean police after being prompted by the United States Interpol.
She said the red alert was dated 13th of June which showed that the arrest was unlawful as there was no arrest warrant at the time of the arrest.
The judge described Saab's arrest and subsequent detention as illegal, therefore, the court ordered Cape Verde to release Saab and stop all processes of extradition to the United States.
“We found that his arrest was arbitrarily done by the criminal police of Cape Verde” and his subsequent detention are “all illegal,” she added.
Saab was awarded $200, 000 as compensation as against the $500, 000 requested.
In his reaction, Falana, who is the counsel for Saab, expressed joy over the ruling of the court.
He said, “We commend the court for this judgment and we hope that the copies will be made available as soon as possible. We are happy with the judgment.”
Saab’s status as a diplomat has been brought to question after his arrest in June 2020 at the request of the United States of America for alleged financial crimes.
Until recently, Saab was held in the country’s prison against the ECOWAS court order that the diplomat be placed on house arrest until its main hearing on February 5, after three consecutive adjournments.
At the last hearing, Falana had argued that, “when detained, Alex Saab was engaged in a humanitarian s pecial mission to Iran. He had, and continues to have, the status of a Special Envoy of Venezuela.
“He therefore, enjoys diplomatic immunity and inviolability. Therefore, not only can he not be subjected to imprisonment and legal proceedings by Cape Verde, such actions also violate customary international law.
“On 24 December 2020, Alex Saab was appointed as Alternate Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the African Union. His immunity was thus reinforced, but it also demonstrated that he continues to command the full support of Venezuela as a diplomatic agent. No objections have been raised to Mr Saab’s appointment by the African Union.
“it is not a matter for Cape Verde (or any other country for that matter) to raise issue with whom Venezuela as a sovereign state appoints as its ambassador. Equally it is for Iran to determine if it recognises Mr Saab as a Special Envoy to Iran and not any third party.
“Though Cape Verde has released Alex Saab into house arrest, it has only done so to give the impression of having complied with the ECOWAS Court 2 December ) decision.
“The reality is that Cape Verde has only partially grudgingly complied and the conditions of Mr Saab’s so-called house arrest are well short of accepted international standards and even below those Cape Verde itself has offered to drug traffickers in the past.”
Counsel for the defendant, Henrique Borges argued that the ECOWAS court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, he said: “Cape Verde does not recognise the authority of the ECOWAS Court to decide this case as it has not signed and, consequently, not bound by the Additional Protocols of ECOWAS Court.”
Borges further claimed at the hearing that they had filed some additional documents (namely legal opinion(s)) but could not remember when they had done so when asked by the court!
But Falana said: “Cape Verde has to comply with the ECOWAS Ruling in accordance with the Revised Treaty (Article 15) besides the Additional Protocols. Under the provisions of the Additional Protocol 2005, if 9 States Members sign it, it becomes binding for all the members of ECOWAS.
“In this case, 14 out of 15 member states signed with the only one not signing was Cape Verde and that only because its Prime Minister at the time had to return to CV to deal with an emergency.
“Cape Verde has not at any time since expressed any discomfort with the protocols, at the material time fully participated in the discussions to agree the protocols and, importantly has one of its jurists appointed as a member of the ECOWAS Panel of Judges, its current Chief Justice is a member of the Committee of Chief Justices of the ECOWAS Court and a currently serving member of the Cape Verde Supreme Court was previously a member of the ECOWAS Court. Once again, by its conduct Cape Verde can be seen to have accepted the jurisdiction of the ECOWAS Court.”
Saab was arrested on June 12 during a stopover at Amilcar Cabral International Airport on the Island of Sal by the Cape Verdean government. He was traveling to Venezuela from Iran.
His arrest by the Cape Verdean Government was hinged on an international arrest warrant purportedly issued by Interpol at the request of the United States.
The Venezuelan Authorities have continued to call for the Saab’s unconditional release, adding that he had diplomatic immunity when he was arrested.
The ECOWAS Court had in its December 20, 2020 ruling ordered the Republic of Cape Verde to place Saab under permanent home detention in good conditions, including access to medical treatment and visits. The Court also ordered that the applicant should not be extradited pending the decision of the Court on the substantive matter.