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Latin America

Businessman who sued Univision Noticias lashes out in Venezuela against four journalists who had to leave the country

Alex Saab was linked by the investigative journalism portal Armando.info to the business with the subsidized food bags that the Venezuelan government sells to the population. The journalists reported that they had to leave the country because of threats of imprisonment
9 Feb 2018 – 01:00 PM EST
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Alex Saab

Barranquilla businessman Alex Nain Saab Morán maintains a simultaneous offensive on several fronts against the press. In the United States, he has sued journalist Gerardo Reyes of Univision, who has followed his business in Colombia and Venezuela. At the same time, it undertook a legal offensive against journalists from the Venezuelan investigative portal Armando.info, who this week announced that they had to flee Venezuela to seek protection.

The editors of the Venezuelan site Alfredo Meza, Ewald Scharfenberg and Joseph Poliszuk, and the journalist Roberto Deniz, explained that they face a complaint of "continued aggravated defamation" and "aggravated insult" in the Eleventh Court of First Instance in Judicial Functions of the Criminal Judicial Circuit of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas. In Venezuela, defamation is considered a crime.

According to the journalists, in the lawsuit the businessman is assisted by the lawyer Amir Nassar, who in 2005 represented the then pro-government MVR party before the National Electoral Council (CNE).

With the signature of Deniz, Armando.info published two reports in 2017 that showed the connection of Saab with the company Group Grand Limited and the sale to the Venezuelan Government of food for the state plan of the Local Committees for Supply and Production (Clap), that distributes food at subsidized prices in vast sectors of the population.

The first of the works was published in April of last year ("Empresarios cuestionados en Ecuador y EEUU le venden comida al gobierno venezolano"). The second was revealed in September ( “De Veracruz a la Guaira: un viaje que une a Nicolás Maduro con Piedad Córdoba”) shortly after the Attorney General of the Republic dismissed by the Venezuelan Executive, Luisa Ortega Díaz, denounced the alleged relationship between Saab, Group Grand Limited and Nicolás Maduro himself.

No chance of a fair trial

Alfredo Meza recalls that after that second publication there were threats and exposure of personal data of the four journalists of Armando.info from an anonymous account on social networks, a fact that was denounced at the time by trade unions and civil society organizations such as the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP), the Press and Society Institute of Venezuela (Ipys Venezuela) and Espacio Público.

Meza also told Univision Noticias that although they were initially willing to go to trial, several facts made them see that there was no possibility of being released from the process. It was then that he prepared to leave Venezuela with his wife and two small children.

"We arrived at the airport and I was very afraid to find out just at the time of an order to ban the country, I was afraid that would happen to my children, my wife, and my passport could be taken away with some excuse as it has happened to some journalists ... what happens is that in Venezuela you are walking in an absolutely uncertain terrain, anything can happen", he explained from Miami, where he now resides.

In the press release, the editors of Armando.info reported that Saab assures that "their honor and reputation have been affected by the statements contained in the publications."

"During the investigation report, in the offices of Group Grand Limited in Caracas did not respond to the request made by several phone calls, or answered the emails sent to know the version of those involved," said the journalists in the statement.

Armando.info research portal was born in 2014 and has stood out for responding to the climate of censorship that the government of Nicolás Maduro imposes on the media in Venezuela. In 2017, Panama Papers participated in the great collaborative global research with stories of Venezuelan officials and businessmen.

They were also responsible for the series on Military Outsourcing, which won them the second place of the Latin American Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2017.

Although scattered in different countries, the editors of Armando.info intend to maintain the investigative editorial line and continue doing the journalism in which they believe. "We plan to continue", said Meza.

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