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Colombia seizes properties of businessman tied to Maduro

July 23, 2020 GMT
In this photo distributed by Colombia's Attorney Generals Office, officials pose with their backs to the camera by a pool on a property allegedly belonging to Alex Saab in Barranquilla, Colombia, Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Authorities seized a luxury mansion allegedly belonging to the businessman detained in Cape Verde on U.S. corruption charges related to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. (Colombia's Attorney Generals Office via AP)
In this photo distributed by Colombia's Attorney Generals Office, officials pose with their backs to the camera by a pool on a property allegedly belonging to Alex Saab in Barranquilla, Colombia, Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Authorities seized a luxury mansion allegedly belonging to the businessman detained in Cape Verde on U.S. corruption charges related to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. (Colombia's Attorney Generals Office via AP)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Authorities in Colombia have seized a luxury mansion complete with a spa, tennis court and two pools allegedly belonging to a businessman detained in Cape Verde on U.S. corruption charges related to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Images of the home became public as U.S. officials on Thursday blacklisted two Venezuelan brothers who authorities say carried out “corrupt activities” for Maduro’s government around the world, and supported his son.

The house seized Wednesday in the city of Barranquilla is purportedly worth $7.6 million and is registered under the name of a shell company but in fact belongs to Alex Saab, according to Colombia’s chief prosecutor.

Six other properties including two homes, an apartment and three garages were also seized and along with the mansion are valued at a total of $9.6 million.

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Saab was arrested in June in Cape Verde and has been indicted in the U.S. on money laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government that was never built.

The 48-year-old has also been sanctioned by the Trump administration for allegedly utilizing a network of shell companies across the world – from Hong Kong to Mexico – to hide massive profits from no-bid, overvalued food contracts he got through bribes and kickbacks.

The U.S. is currently seeking his extradition.

The Maduro government is contesting his arrest, denouncing it as an illegal act of aggression by the Trump administration to inflict new hardship on Venezuela, which was experiencing an economic contraction worse than the U.S. Great Depression before the pandemic.

Colombian officials released a video of one of the seized properties Thursday, a spacious modern-styled house with a grand piano near the entrance. The home appeared empty of any personal belongings but was filled with furniture.

It features a spa with massage tables, a bathroom with a giant tub and a marble shower as well as living spaces with billiards and a ping pong table.

U.S. officials in private have characterized Saab, who was born in Colombia, as a front man for Maduro, though he has not been identified as such in court filings. Prosecutors in Colombia had previously announced they were freezing eight properties belonging to Saab as part of their own money laundering investigation.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury officials hit Venezuelan brothers Santiago Jose Morón Hernandez and Ricardo Jose Morón Hernandez with financial sanctions. They’re accused of doing business on behalf of Maduro’s government and supporting his son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra, who had been previously sanctioned.

Maduro Guerra and the two brothers are also central figures in the sales of gold illegally mined in Venezuela and dispatched from the Central Bank of Venezuela, U.S. officials said.

The Trump administration has previously sanctioned Maduro and dozens in the socialist leader’s inner circle in a campaign to pressure him from power. The U.S. supports opposition leader Juan Guaidó.