Portuguese Court Clears Way for Extradition of Ex-CIA Agent to Italy in Bush-Era Kidnapping Case

Sunday, April 24, 2016
Sabrina De Sousa (photo: Getty)


By Elisabetta Povoledo, New York Times


ROME — A former undercover CIA agent will be handed over to Italy, where she was convicted of taking part in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in one of the renditions ordered by the George W. Bush administration, after appellate courts in Portugal, where she lives, turned down her appeal this week.


In January, a Portuguese court ruled that the former agent, Sabrina De Sousa, should be handed over to Italy, but the order was stayed pending appeal. On Friday, her Italian lawyer, Dario Bolognesi, said in an interview that the appeal had been denied and that De Sousa would be extradited after May 4.


News that Portugal’s Constitutional Court had turned down her appeal this week was also reported Friday by The Washington Post and by the Portuguese newspapers Diário de Notícias and Expresso. Her Portuguese lawyer, Manuel de Magalhães e Silva, did not respond to requests for comment.


De Sousa, who holds dual U.S. and Portuguese citizenship, has denied any wrongdoing or involvement in the kidnapping, which took place while she was working undercover for the CIA as a diplomat in Milan. She resigned from the agency in 2009 and avoided trial by leaving Europe, but was convicted in absentia that year. Despite the risk of arrest, she returned to Portugal last year to be closer to her family.


In October last year, the Portuguese authorities briefly detained her and confiscated her passport so she could not leave the country, though she was freed pending the court proceedings.


De Sousa has exhausted her appeals in the Italian judicial system. It is not clear whether, upon her return to Italy, she would immediately begin serving her prison term, which would last a minimum of four years.


Portuguese courts, including the Constitutional Court, have stated that De Sousa, once sent to Italy, should have the right to a new trial, or at least the opportunity to present new evidence and witnesses in an appeal.


But Armando Spataro, one of the Italian prosecutors who helped secure criminal convictions of around two dozen Americans, including De Sousa, in connection with the kidnapping, said he saw no legal grounds for a new trial. She would be sent straight to prison, “and that’s that,” he said.


Bolognesi, her defense lawyer, said the situation was less certain. He said he would soon meet with Italian magistrates to discuss the possibility of a pardon from President Sergio Mattarella. Some of the other CIA operatives convicted in the case got either full or partial pardons, while others have asserted claims to diplomatic immunity (De Sousa’s attempt to do so was not successful). And still others have simply stayed away from countries that might extradite them to Italy. As of yet, none of the Americans have been imprisoned in Italy.


The top Italian agents involved in the kidnapping were acquitted after important testimony was ruled to be a state secret.


Because some of De Sousa’s co-defendants have been pardoned and some of the Italian agents have been acquitted, she should be pardoned, too, Bolognesi said. “We’re going to insist on this point,” he said.


The cleric, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized in Milan in February 2003 as part of the United States’ practice of rendition, in which a terrorism suspect is captured and delivered to another country for interrogation.


Nasr was taken to a military base before being transferred to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured.


The case riveted Italy and became a major source of friction in relations between the United States and Italy. Within the field of international law, the prosecutions of the CIA agents for their role in renditions were closely watched.


In 2013, an Italian court sentenced Nasr in absentia to six years in prison for terrorism activities. He remains in Egypt.


Sewell Chan contributed reporting from London.


To Learn More:

Ex-CIA Agent Convicted in Rendition Case to be extradited to Italy by Order of Portuguese Court (by Shrikesh Laxmidas, Reuters)

Italy Reduces Sentences of Two Americans Convicted in CIA Rendition Case (by Frances D'Emilio, Associated Press)

CIA Agent Convicted in Italy for Kidnapping Detained in Portugal (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Ex-CIA Agent Accuses Top Bush Officials of Approving Kidnapping in Italy and then Abandoning those who Followed Orders (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Accused CIA Agent Sues for Diplomatic Immunity (by David Wallechinsky and Jacquelyn Lickness, AllGov)


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