A federal judge in the United States has rejected a plea for diplomatic immunity from businessman Alex Saab, a close ally of Venezuela’s left-wing President Nicolas Maduro.

Lawyers for the Colombian-born Saab, 51, have argued that the charges against him should be dismissed, as he was acting as a diplomat for the Venezuelan government.

Scola’s ruling asserts that since the United States does not recognise the legitimacy of Maduro’s second term, the court cannot recognise Saab as a representative of his government.

“Maduro’s regime has been deemed ‘illegitimate,'” Scola wrote. “Any claim to diplomatic immunity asserted by a representative of the Maduro regime must also be considered illegitimate.”

The decision continues a nearly two-year-long legal battle over Saab, which has heightened tensions between the US and Venezuela

Saab faces one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.