World News

Panama court overturns anti-Castro plot pardons

Fidel Castro shows a photograph of Cuban anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles while addressing the media in Panama City in this November 18, 2000 photograph. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama’s Supreme Court has overturned a 2004 presidential pardon of anti-Castro activist Luis Posada Carriles and three other Cubans accused of plotting to kill Fidel Castro in 2000, a court spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Following a legal challenge by a former public prosecutor, the Supreme Court ruled in a late night session on Monday that pardoning the four exiled Cubans had been unconstitutional, judicial branch spokeswoman Mariela Fuentes told Reuters.

In a mainly symbolic ruling, the court also reversed pardons on 179 other people, including several dozen journalists.

Posada, a former CIA operative who has been linked to a string of anti-communist plots, and the three other men were arrested in Panama in 2000 over a scheme to assassinate the Cuban president during an Ibero-American summit.

They were pardoned by Panama’s U.S.-friendly President Mireya Moscoso in 2004. The move was criticized by many as being politically motivated and sparked a major diplomatic spat with Cuba and Venezuela.

Cuba, which also accuses Posada of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 people, had tried unsuccessfully to extradite the four men.

The activists were jailed in Panama for their part in a plan to bomb a University of Panama auditorium where Castro was due to speak during the regional summit.

Panamanian courts ruled there was too little evidence to try them for attempted murder and instead tried them on charges of conspiracy, possessing explosives and endangering public safety.

Posada -- who was involved in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Castro -- is currently in the United States. He was released in April 2007 from U.S. custody, where he had been since May 2005 after he entered the country illegally and sought asylum.

Reporting by Andrew Beatty; Editing by Catherine Bremer and David Wiessler