World News

Italy gives partial pardon to ex-CIA officer, making jail unlikely

ROME/LISBON (Reuters) - The Italian president on Tuesday gave a partial pardon to former CIA officer Sabrina de Sousa, convicted in absentia in Italy for involvement in the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric there, the president’s office said.

FILE PHOTO: Italian President Sergio Mattarella arrives for the Brdo-Brioni Process meeting, a gathering of political leaders from the Western Balkans, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina May 29, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

President Sergio Mattarella’s decision to reduce de Sousa’s sentence to three years from four means that she can apply for alternative sanctions to prison.

De Sousa, a dual U.S.-Portuguese citizen who denies involvement in the abduction, was detained by Portuguese police last week.

There was some confusion over the next steps. De Sousa’s lawyer in Italy said she had already been released, but her lawyer in Portugal said she remained in jail and it was too late to stop her being extradited to Italy on Wednesday.

She is one of 26 people convicted in absentia on charges of snatching Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from a street in Milan in 2003 and taking him to be questioned in Egypt under the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” programme.

The programme was one of Washington’s most hotly debated responses to the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks in the United States. Nasr, who was on a U.S. list of militant suspects, said he was tortured under interrogation after being transferred to Egypt.

The president said he had taken account of the fact that the United States has stopped the practice of extraordinary renditions and also the need to give de Sousa similar treatment to others convicted of the same offence.

In 2015 Mattarella gave pardons to two other officials convicted in the case.

De Sousa can now apply to serve her sentence under house arrest or doing social work rather than in jail, and she need not be held in prison while her application goes ahead.

“She is now a free agent and she can go wherever she wants,” de Sousa’s lawyer in Italy, Dario Bolognesi, told Reuters.

“... She has always declared her innocence and keeping her in jail would have done no good to the friendly relations between the United States and Italy.”

De Sousa was originally sentenced to seven years in jail, but this was reduced to four as part of a general amnesty to reduce prison overcrowding.

In Washington, former Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who has been acting as a go-between de Sousa, her husband and the Trump administration, said the hope was she would be allowed to serve three years of community service in Portugal.

De Sousa’s husband, David Ciummo, told Reuters from Portugal that she was “feeling good” about the sentence commutation.

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction but more work needs to be done,” he said.

Reporting by Gavin Jones and Andrei Khalip; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; editing by Andrew Roche and John Stonestreet