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Ex-CIA man Edwin Wilson, jailed for selling arms to Libya, dies

(Reuters) - Former CIA operative Edwin P. Wilson, who was found guilty in 1983 of selling arms to Libya but released from prison in 2004 after a judge threw out the conviction, has died at age 84, a funeral home director said on Saturday.

When Wilson was sent to prison, his was the biggest arms-dealing case in U.S. history.

Wilson died on September 10 of complications from heart valve replacement surgery, said Craig Emmick, director at Columbia Funeral Home and Crematory in Seattle.

Following his release from prison, where Wilson had worked tirelessly to disprove allegations he was a traitor, he had spent recent years living in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, said a statement from his family on the website of Columbia Funeral Home.

Wilson grew up on a farm in Idaho and joined the CIA in the 1950s after serving in the Korean War as a Marine.

He officially retired from the CIA in 1971 but continued to work for the spy agency as a freelancer, according to a 2003 ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, the Houston-based judge who overturned his conviction.

He ran front companies for the CIA and later built a $23 million fortune with his enterprises, amassing a string of properties including a 2,500-acre (1,011-hectare) farm in Virginia.

In 1982, federal agents arrested Wilson. He was charged in the Southern District of Texas with selling 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives to the Libyan government of the late Muammar Gaddafi.

Wilson was convicted in that case and other federal cases against him outside of Texas, and was sentenced to a total of 52 years in prison in 1983.

His appeal of the Texas case produced CIA records indicating he had worked for the agency on at least 40 occasions. None of those documents showed the CIA asked him to sell C-4 explosives to Libya, but several showed the agency knew he worked there and requested his help in obtaining information.

Judge Hughes found that U.S. Justice Department prosecutors knew Wilson had worked for the CIA but introduced a false affidavit from a top official with the agency who avowed the CIA never asked Wilson “to perform or provide any services, directly or indirectly.”

The judge wrote in a 2003 opinion that “With their knowledge of the nature of Wilson’s work for the CIA, they (prosecutors) deliberately deceived the court.”

Wilson was released from prison the following year.

A representative from the CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wilson.

He told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2006 that he was only in Libya to serve the U.S. government.

“I was doing it for them. If they hadn’t walked away from me, I wouldn’t have ever been convicted,” he told the paper.

He is survived by his sons Karl and Erik, sister Leora Pinkston and his longtime girlfriend Cate Callahan, said the statement from his family on the funeral home’s website.

Additional reporting by Jim Wilson; Editing by Xavier Briand