US prosecutor in Miami targeting Venezuela graft is leaving

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A man wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic passes a mural of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Analysts say that in recent months the pandemic has helped suck away the oppositions scanty momentum and bolster Maduros already strong hand. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

MIAMI – A federal prosecutor who has jailed some of Venezuela’s biggest crooks is stepping down, The Associated Press has learned, leaving a void that could dampen U.S. efforts to expose criminal activity in the South American country amid rising tensions with the Trump administration.

Michael Nadler, an assistant U.S. attorney, is leaving to enter private practice next month at a boutique Miami law firm— Stumphauzer Foslid Sloman Ross & Kolaya—said a person familiar with the move who insisted on speaking anonymously because it hadn’t been made public.

Nadler, 48, has indicted multiple Venezuelan Cabinet ministers, businessmen and Swiss bankers as part of a sustained effort by investigators in the Southern District of Florida to recover some of the $300 billion estimated to have been stolen from Venezuela in two decades of socialist rule.

Much of that allegedly ill-gotten wealth has been plowed into Miami’s booming luxury real estate market. That has angered the city’s Latino residents — many of them Venezuelan and Cuban exiles — for whom the Trump administration’s hard-line focus on exposing corruption in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government is a major draw in the battleground state ahead of the U.S presidential election.

“There may well be a collective sigh of relief in Venezuela from those he targeted,” said Michael Diaz, a Miami defense attorney who has litigated against Nadler on behalf of Venezuelan clients. “Certainly some will be toasting his untimely departure.”

Nadler in 2018 secured what is so far the largest judgment to date against a Venezuelan insider when Alejandro Andrade, the former national treasurer, pleaded guilty to his role in a foreign currency conspiracy that siphoned off hundreds of millions from state coffers. As part of his plea agreement, Andrade forfeited to the U.S. government $1 billion in cash and assets, including an oceanfront Palm Beach mansion, luxury vehicles, show-jumping horses and several Rolex and Hublot watches. He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence.

Nadler leaves one politically sensitive case unfinished. In June, he secured the arrest in Cape Verde of Colombian businessman Alex Saab as Maduro’s alleged front man was en route to Iran. In a one-two punch, the Trump administration last year sanctioned Saab on the same day that Nadler charged the businessman with money laundering in connection with an alleged bribery scheme to develop low-income housing for Venezuela’s government that was never built.

Saab’s extradition is still pending and being fought vigorously by a team of lawyers that includes former Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who is famous for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Maduro’s government said the businessman, who also has a Venezuelan passport, was on a “humanitarian mission” to Iran to buy food and medical supplies.