By Olayemi Stella
A major political crisis is brewing in the self-styled “model African democracy” of Cape Verde after the ECOWAS Court of Justice declared that the arrest and detention months of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab on 12 June 2020 was illegal. Alex Saab’s defence team led by Nigeran Femi Falana, SAN, hailed the decision as “…a complete vindication of Mr Saab’s position. I urge the Cape Verde authorities to respect the decision of the Honourable Court and immediately release Ambassador Saab.”
Cape Verde has declared that it arrested Mr Saab based on an INTERPOL Red Notice allegedly issued at the request of the United States, but in its ruling of 15 March 2021, ECOWAS’s highest human rights court stated it was satisfied that no Red Notice existed at the time of the arrest. It was not issued until the day after on 13 June.
This raises serious questions about the conduct of the arresting officer Natalino Corriea and the Prosecutor General Luis Landim. Both must have known the Red Notice did not exist and yet ordered the arrest of Alex Saab. So, who else knew of the illegality of their actions?
The position of Prosecutor General Landim is potentially untenable, given his zealous role in supporting the arrest and subsequent extradition request. Questions about procedural missteps are being raised by the opposition Pan Africa Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) party
It is impossible to accept that such an action could have taken place without the knowledge of Prime Minister Corrieia and other senior members of his cabinet.
With parliamentary elections just weeks away, the ECOWAS Court’s decision could deal a body blow to the hopes of the ruling MPD in what is proving to be a tight race. Recent opinion polls point towards a hung parliament and that a significant majority of Cape Verdeans believing that its government has mishandled the Alex Saab matter and he should never have been arrested.
Venezuela has now written to Cape Verde and asked for Alex Saab’s immediate release.