The Venezuelan government is using fake Twitter accounts to influence public opinion and prevent authorities in the West African islands of Cape Verde from extraditing its main trader to the United States, according to an intelligence analysis.
The report, a copy of which was forwarded to the Financial Times, analyzed more than half a million Twitter posts linked to Alex saab, a Colombian citizen accused by Washington of carrying out illicit fuel and gold trading operations to help the government of Nicolás Maduro escape sanctions.
The Mature diet, he concluded, “and / or his proxies (conscious or not) are involved in a coordinated campaign to influence both the government of Cabo Verde and its people to prevent the extradition of Alex Saab.”
Saab was arrested in Cape Verde, also known as Cabo Verde, last June on a US arrest warrant when his private jet landed to refuel. The Maduro government has said it is on a humanitarian mission to obtain food and medical supplies to fight the coronavirus. The United States and the Venezuelan opposition said he was traveling to Iran, presumably to obtain fuel supplies in defiance of US sanctions.
Saab has been held in the islands since then, while courts consider a US extradition request. Washington hopes Saab will provide valuable insight into the inner workings of the Maduro government. He accuses him of helping the regime import gasoline from Iran, buy state-subsidized food in Mexico and export illegally mined Venezuelan gold to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. while channeling money through a network of businesses in Panama, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Neither Saab’s lawyers nor the Venezuelan government responded to a request for comment.
Caracas has made a concerted effort to try and get Saab sent back to Venezuela. The Maduro government wants him released because it claims he has diplomatic status as Venezuela’s “special envoy” to Iran, while the US State Department says there is no basis for him to claim immunity.
The intelligence report, forwarded to the Venezuelan opposition, examined 547,000 tweets related to the Saab case posted in Africa and South America from October 2020 to February 2021.
“Our analysis suggests that there has been a growing effort, organized (at least in part) by the Maduro regime. . . to direct pressure on the government of Cabo Verde regarding the judicial decisions rendered in the Saab extradition case, ”he concluded.
The study identified two groups of suspicious Twitter accounts. Those in the first group were all put in place last October. Their owners tweeted a lot about Saab, then fell silent on November 3. Five of the accounts tweeted about Saab more than 800 times in just a few weeks.
The second group contained 86 accounts, all created between December and February, which posted identical content about the Saab case. None of them included a banner image or profile bio and some of them shared the same profile picture. Most of them did not have followers and did not follow other accounts.
The report concluded that the evidence suggested “a coordinated effort to pressure the Cabo Verde government to release Saab” and said agents of the Maduro regime appeared to be “both ancestors and participants. active in this campaign ”.
Pro-Saab Twitter traffic has increased since the new year and “the main driver of this increase appears to be the deployment of Nigeria-based social media influencers,” according to the analysis.
Saab has had close ties with Venezuela for years. In 2011, he signed a joint venture contract at the head of a Colombian company for the construction of prefabricated houses in Venezuela. The US Department of Justice says he and his company never honored the contract. “[They] transferred about $ 350 million from Venezuela, via the United States, to overseas accounts they owned or controlled, ”he said in 2019.
The US Treasury said Saab laundered profits from a Venezuelan government program to import food “through a sophisticated network of shell companies, business partners and family members.”
Saab’s defense team, which includes top Spanish lawyer Baltasar Garzón, complained that he was held in inhumane conditions in Cape Verde and his health deteriorated. At the end of January, he was placed under house arrest.