Portuguese court rules to extradite ex-CIA agent to Italy

AP News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2016 8:43 AM

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A Portuguese court has ruled that a former CIA operative convicted of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric as part of an extraordinary renditions program should be turned over to Italy to serve her six-year sentence there, a court official said Friday.

The decision to extradite Sabrina De Sousa after her arrest last October was handed down on Tuesday, the president of the court in Lisbon, Luis Vaz das Neves, told The Associated Press.

De Sousa, who operated under diplomatic cover in Italy, was among 26 Americans convicted in absentia for the kidnapping of Milan cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in broad daylight from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003.

Extraordinary renditions were part of the Bush administration's "war on terror" after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Egyptian cleric's kidnapping, which also implicated Italy's secret services, has proven embarrassing to successive Italian governments.

De Sousa, who was born in India and holds both U.S. and Portuguese passports, was initially acquitted due to diplomatic immunity, but was found guilty by Italy's highest court in 2014. She was arrested at Lisbon Airport on a European warrant last year as she was on her way to visit her elderly mother in India with a round-trip ticket.

Authorities seized her passport and set her free while awaiting the court decision on her extradition.

Manuel Magalhaes e Silva, De Sousa's Portuguese lawyer, told the AP in an email he was officially informed of the extradition decision Friday and intends to lodge an appeal at the Supreme Court. If that fails, he will go to the Constitutional Court, he said.

De Sousa has argued against extradition to Italy, telling a Portuguese court after her arrest that Italian authorities tried her in absentia and never officially notified her of her conviction, according to Vaz das Neves.

All of the Americans were tried in absentia and were represented for most of the proceedings by court-appointed lawyers who had no contact with their clients. Only toward the end of the trial did De Sousa and another defendant, a member of the military, receive clearance to hire their own lawyers.

The Lisbon judge ruled that De Sousa should be sent to Italy so she can be notified of the conviction and possibly demand another trial, Vaz das Neves said.

The judge also ruled that if De Sousa accepts her prison sentence, she must be allowed to serve it in Portugal if she wishes, which is possible under European legal procedure, according to Vaz das Neves. De Sousa has said that she had been living in Portugal and intended to settle there.

De Sousa has denied in interviews participating in the rendition and has said she wants to hold the CIA accountable. "If she truly arrives in Italy, she could finally choose to say to magistrates what she so far has only said in interviews," said the lead prosecutor in the case, Armando Spataro.

De Sousa has requested a pardon from Italy. Earlier this month, in an act of clemency, Italy's president reduced the sentences of two others convicted in the case. President Sergio Mattarella reduced former CIA base chief Robert Seldon Lady's sentence to seven years from nine. Mattarella also wiped out the entire penalty — three years — faced by another American, Betnie Medero.

After being kidnapped Nasr was transferred to Egypt where he claimed he was tortured. After he was released from Egyptian custody, Italian authorities in 2005 issued an arrest warrant for him. He was convicted in absentia by an Italian court in 2013 on decade-old terror charges and was sentenced to six years in prison, although he never returned to Italy to serve the sentence.

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Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.