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U.S. judge dismisses most money laundering charges against Maduro ally Saab

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November 1, 2021

By Alexandra Ulmer and Luc Cohen

(Reuters) -A U.S. judge in Florida on Monday dismissed money laundering counts against Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, but he remains accused of one count of conspiracy to launder money, a court filing showed.

The order was issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. The conspiracy charge that remains carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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Prosecutors say Saab, a Colombia-born businessman and top dealmaker for Maduro’s socialist government, siphoned around $350 million out of Venezuela via the United States as part of a bribery scheme linked to Venezuela’s state-controlled exchange rate.

One of Saab’s lawyers, Henry Bell, told Reuters last week that his client would plead not guilty at an arraignment that had been originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed to Nov. 15. Bell declined to comment on Monday’s decision.

Maduro’s allies have characterized Washington’s pursuit of Saab as part of an “economic war” on Venezuela being waged by the U.S. government. The case has strained already frayed relations between Washington and Caracas.

Saab was extradited https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-venezuela-politics-saab/cape-verde-supreme-court-rules-on-extradition-of-maduro-envoy-idUSKBN2BA0HQ last month to the United States from Cape Verde, where he was detained in the summer of 2020 on a U.S. warrant.

In a Monday filing, U.S. prosecutors requested that seven of the initial eight charges contained in a July 2019 indictment be dropped to comply with assurances that officials made to the government of Cape Verde in seeking Saab’s extradition.

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Prosecutors said officials promised Cape Verde that Saab would only be charged on a single count to comply with the archipelago nation’s laws regarding the maximum term of imprisonment.

Prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Three former federal prosecutors told Reuters they did not think the dismissals were major complications to the U.S. case, although one said it was a setback.

“This filing shows that the U.S. has now lost some sentencing leverage,” said Mark Bini, partner with Reed Smith.

But Benton Curtis, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, said that a lower maximum sentence was unlikely to affect Saab’s likelihood of collaborating.

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“Twenty years is still twenty years – that’s a potentially significant period of incarceration. Once you reach certain (high) levels of potential incarceration, cooperation becomes less and less attractive to defendants,” Curtis said.

Venezuela’s opposition has said it hopes Saab will tell U.S. law enforcement agencies what he knows https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/high-profile-case-against-maduro-ally-saab-miami-2021-11-01 about any criminal activity by top Venezuelan officials, as well as the government’s schemes for evading U.S. sanctions, which are aimed at ousting Maduro.

Washington has called Maduro a corrupt dictator and blamed him for the once-wealthy OPEC nation’s economic collapse.

Following Saab’s arrest, Venezuela’s government said Saab had been granted Venezuelan citizenship and had been named a diplomat to negotiate shipments of fuel and humanitarian aid from Iran.

In response to the extradition, Maduro’s government last month suspended nascent negotiations with the opposition.

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The U.S.-backed opposition, which has called on Maduro to resume the talks, has said Saab became wealthy as a result of the deals he made with the government and did nothing to relieve the suffering of Venezuela’s citizens.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in San Fancisco and Luc Cohen in New York, additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Noeleen Walder)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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