Today, legal team, Baker Hostetler representing Mr. Alex Saab Moran filed his Opening Brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, challenging a decision by U.S. District Judge in Miami refusing to consider Mr. Saab’s status as a diplomat immune from U.S. proceedings unless and until he personally appears in the United States.
Mr. Saab was unlawfully detained, at the request of U.S. law enforcement authorities, in Cabo Verde, where his aircraft had stopped to refuel. He was, in fact, traveling from Venezuela to Iran on a diplomatic mission, seeking humanitarian assistance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a well established rule of international law that diplomats, traveling from their country of origin to an overseas post, whether as a special envoy like Mr. Saab or as part of a permanent mission, are entitled to diplomatic immunity from arrest or detention. Accordingly, at the instruction of his own government, he has vigorously opposed his extradition to the United States.
Mr. Saab, the subject of a U.S. indictment for alleged wrongdoing in Venezuela and neighboring countries, sought to raise this point with the Miami district judge, who refused to consider his immunity until he agreed to personally appear before the judge in the United States. The judge grounded his decision in the “fugitive disentitlement” doctrine, which is a judge-made rule stating that individuals who have fled the court’s authority cannot raise legal arguments until they have been physically brought before the court.
However, this doctrine does not apply in Mr. Saab’s case because he has never fled the United States or U.S. law enforcement authorities, and has opposed his extradition to the United States because he is a diplomat on mission entitled to immunity. Accordingly, Mr. Saab has appealed the District Judge’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
In his Opening Brief, Mr. Saab has made plain that he is not a fugitive from the United States and that, as Venezuela’s Special Envoy to Iran, he is a diplomatic Head of Mission under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the United States Diplomatic Relations Act, which implements U.S. treaty obligations under that Convention. In fact, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that Special Envoy’s like Mr. Saab are entitled to immunity in a case decided in 1984, Abdulaziz v. Meto. Dade County, 741 F.2d 1328 (11th Cir. 1984). This case constitutes binding precedent on both the District Judge and the Court of Appeals.
Accordingly, Mr. Saab has asked the Court of Appeals to reject the District Court’s application of the Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine and to rule that he is entitled to immunity from arrest, detention, and extradition to the United States, dismissing the case against him.