The Colombian businessman Alex Saab, arrested in Cape Verde and accused of being the front man of the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, plays a key role in the government program Local Committee for Supply and Production, which is in charge of distributing subsidized food – many of them imported – to the most disadvantaged families in the country.
According to the Venezuelan opposition, the Barranquillero, 48 years old and from whom his first image in prison was known, amassed a fortune selling to the Maduro regime thousands of tons of food of dubious quality and with extra costs, which produced a millionaire loss of capital to the country.
And according to the United States justice, which sanctioned him along with Maduro’s relatives in 2019 for his alleged participation in a corruption scheme, Saab stole “hundreds of millions of dollars” and paid bribes to obtain juicy contracts from the Venezuelan State.
When he was detained in Cape Verde on June 13, Venezuela reacted, noting that Saab is a Venezuelan citizen and a “agent” of the Government, who was “in transit” to return to the country.
But how did an unknown Colombian businessman become part of Venezuela’s flagship food subsidy program? Then five keys that shed light on the role of Alex Saab in the so-called CLAP.
1.- HOW WAS ALEX SAAB INVOLVED IN THE CLAP DE MADURO?
Maduro created the CLAPs in 2016, when Venezuela suffered from a severe shortage of basic food and medicine that kept citizens lined up in long lines for hours in front of supermarkets.
It is at that moment when Saab enters, who appeared as one of the owners of Group Grand Limited (GGL), the company that started importing food for the CLAPs, according to complaints from the Venezuelan opposition and former prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz, who for years was considered close to Chavismo, but turned her back on Maduro before being dismissed from his position in 2017.
Saab has already worked with the Maduro Administration at least since 2013, when he got a contract $ 60 million to raise vertical gyms to promote sports and cultural practices, the solution that the Venezuelan president found to tackle the high crime that the country was then experiencing.
2.- WHY IS SAAB ACCUSED OF BEING MADURO’S TESTAFERRO?
It was Ortega Díaz herself who accused Saab in 2017 of being an alleged figurehead of Maduro, a former bus driver who has governed Venezuela since 2013.
The former prosecutor then said that the results of an investigation that she had carried out when directing the criminal action in Venezuela They made it appear that Maduro was the owner of GGL, although in the papers Saab and the also Colombian Álvaro Pulido appeared as owners.
Saab has always denied, through his attorneys, being part of the food import business in Venezuela.
But Ortega Díaz’s complaints found an echo in an investigation by the Parliament, which controlled the opposition, and that pointed to Saab and Maduro as partners in the import of food for the CLAP.
3.- HOW MUCH MONEY HAS SAAB EARNED IN VENEZUELA?
The figure is not clear, but only with the import of food for the CLAPs, the companies GGL and Asasi Food FZC, linked to Saab and Pulido, received contracts for about 1,500 million dollars between 2016 and 2018, according to a report from Parliament and an investigation by the independent Venezuelan media armando.info.
But Saab, according to allegations from the opposition and investigations by various media, He also has interests in the construction and oil industry, among others..
Thus, it is difficult to establish a precise amount of the profits from their businesses in Venezuela, although the opposition estimates this number at several billion.
The details of the negotiations between the State and private entities are not usually made public in Venezuela, where opacity about the indicators of the economy and public affairs is often the norm.
4.- WHY DOES THE CRITICAL OPPOSITION CLAP THEM?
According to the Venezuelan opposition, this subsidized food program has generated a significant loss of capital to the country, calculated at several billion dollars.
The Venezuelan Parliament said in late 2018 that through the CLAPs the import mafias had defrauded the country of at least $ 5 billion, thanks to cost overruns and huge profit margins on food.
But also, the Parliament then assured that the CLAP foods had “little nutritional value” or were of low quality, using as an example the milk that is distributed in these food boxes.
The deputy Freddy Superlano, who chaired the Legislative control committee, noted that the investigation revealed that, in the specific case of milk, the contribution is between 18 and 42 times less than that offered by companies outside the CLAP system.
5.- WHO DOES THE CLAP SYSTEM SERVE?
Maduro has said that CLAP serves some six million Venezuelan families, who receive boxes of food every 15 days.
Thus, always in agreement with the Government, about 24 million people benefit from the program, or, what is the same, 80% of the Venezuelan population.
EFE He could not contrast these numbers independently, given the magnitude of a program that is being carried out throughout the country. Neither has any public body that does not depend on the Venezuelan Executive have done so.
But EFE Yes, it has been able to verify hundreds of complaints from citizens who complain about delays in the distribution of the boxes or their contents, which they find insufficient to satisfy the nutritional needs of a family.
Each food box, as a general rule, contains two kilos of precooked flour, several kilos of rice and spaghetti, grains, milk, sugar and, in some cases, canned tuna or sardines.
Beyond the complaints about price premiums or poor quality, these nearly 15 kilos of food represent real help for many families in the midst of the severe crisis in Venezuela, a country where more than seven million people, including public employees and pensioners , earn less than $ 10 a month.
(With information from EFE)
Corruption in Venezuela: the Alex Saab case