A US judge dealt a blow on Friday to Alex Saab Moran, a Colombia-born businessman accused in a corruption scheme involving Venezuela's ruling Socialists, by rejecting his assertion of diplomatic immunity.
The judge formally denied a motion filed by lawyers representing Saab Moran, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, to dismiss his criminal indictment on the basis of his claim he was protected from prosecution as a Venezuelan diplomat, according to a court filing.
Saab Moran is being held in a Miami jail awaiting trial on charges of money laundering in the case.
His lawyers argue Saab Moran was on a diplomatic mission for the Venezuelan government to Iran to buy fuel and humanitarian supplies when he was arrested in 2020 in Cape Verde while his plane refueled.
He was extradited to the United States the following year.
"The evidence suggests that the Maduro regime and its accomplices have fabricated documents to cloak Saab Moran in a diplomatic dress that does not befit him, all in an effort to exploit the law of diplomatic immunities and prevent his extradition to the United States," the court ruled.
Venezuela's information ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
But in an interview on state television later on Friday, fellow Maduro ally Jorge Rodriguez, the head of Venezuela's Congress, derided the judge's decision as a "legal atrocity."
"If the United States, or in this case, this judge, takes that decision, which is an atrocity, no diplomat in the world will be safe from now on," he said.
The court rejected the validity of a 2018 credential used by Saab Moran to claim diplomatic status, adding it was not convinced it was related to his dealings with Iran.
"At the time he was arrested, Saab Moran truly was no diplomat at all," the court ruled.
US prosecutors accuse Saab Moran of siphoning off some $350 million from Venezuela via the United States in a scheme that involved bribing Venezuelan government officials.