December 22, 2014 / 5:09 PM / in 3 years

U.S. sees Cuban thaw boosting odds of returned fugitives

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Renewed ties between the United States and Cuba make it more likely the Cuban government will extradite fugitives sought by U.S. officials, a top U.S. law enforcement official said on Monday.

“Certainly, we’re working with that country and every country to get back fugitives who we have charges against,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said.

“I think the fact that we’re going to be having better relationships with Cuba will increase our likelihood of being successful in getting those people back,” he told reporters at a Department of Justice press briefing.

Cole’s comments came in response to a question about the chances of Cuba returning a U.S. fugitive who fled there after being convicted of killing a police officer. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a major policy shift to renew diplomatic ties with the communist-led nation after a 53-year freeze.

In one of the most prominent fugitive cases involving Cuba, Joanne Chesimard was convicted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper and later escaped from prison. In 1984, she was discovered to be living on the island nation.

Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, was also the first woman added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. The agency has offered a $1 million reward for her capture.

While Cuba has returned some fugitives to the United States in recent years, U.S. officials say dozens more remain. Officials at the State Department so far have not said whether extradition will be a top priority in the new policy.

Reporting by Karey van Hall and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott and Doina Chiacu

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