U.S. court says Cuban exile should stand trial

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court has ruled that an anti-Castro Cuban exile and former CIA operative accused in Cuba of a 1976 plane bombing that killed 73 people should stand trial for an immigration violation, court records showed on Friday.

Students hold photographs of victims of the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner during the resolution of a symbolic trial of anti-Castro Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana May 15, 2007. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Thursday said a lower court erred in dismissing an indictment against Luis Posada Carriles days before he was to stand trial in El Paso, Texas, for allegedly lying during 2006 efforts to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, who threw the charges out last year on grounds of government misconduct.

Posada Carriles, 80, who lives in Miami, has been sought for trial in Cuba and Venezuela for masterminding the bombing of a Cubana Airlines jet.

He has denied involvement in the incident but Cuba and Venezuela, which are close allies, have accused the Bush administration of hypocrisy in its “war on terrorism” for not prosecuting Posada Carriles.

In the U.S. Cuban exile community, he has been feted as a freedom fighter for his long fight against Fidel Castro, who took power in Cuba in a 1959 revolution and ruled until February, when his brother Raul Castro became president.

Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice and for Posada Carriles could not be reached.

The appeals court said Cardone should not have thrown out the charges against Posada Carriles because “neither of the grounds put forward by the district court -- grounds which have been loosely characterized as government deception and outrageous conduct -- supports the drastic remedy of dismissal of the indictment.”

Posada was arrested by U.S. authorities in May 2005 after entering the country illegally. He sought asylum, which has not been granted.

In January 2007, he was indicted on seven immigration fraud charges arising from a naturalization application and an immigration hearing.

Granma, the newspaper of the ruling Communist Party in Cuba, said on Friday that the latest court decision was “a new episode of delay tactics” by the Bush administration in what Cuba views as White House efforts to protect Posada.

Along with the plane bombing, Posada, who worked for the CIA during the Cold War, is accused in Cuba of plotting 1997 hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian tourist.

He was jailed in Panama for plotting to kill Castro during an Ibero-American summit in 2000 but was pardoned by outgoing President Mireya Moscoso in 2004.

The pardon was canceled last month by the Panama Supreme Court, opening the door for a possible extradition request from that country.

Reporting by Bruce Nichols; Editing by Jeff Franks and Bill Trott