LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal is likely to extradite former CIA officer Sabrina de Sousa next week to Italy, where she was convicted in absentia for the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, on condition she is retried, her lawyer said on Thursday.
De Sousa, who is a dual U.S.-Portuguese citizen and denies involvement in the abduction, was detained by Portuguese police on Monday and is awaiting extradition in a prison in Porto. Italian prosecutors want her to serve a six-year sentence.
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” program.
The program was one of Washington’s most controversial 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.
“Over the course of next week, Sabrina should be moved to Italy,” said her Portuguese lawyer, Manuel de Magalhaes e Silva.
He said it was not clear whether she would serve time in jail, but her Italian lawyer Dario Bolognesi said she was likely go to prison for a time when she arrives, probably around the middle of next week, in the northern city of Milan.
De Sousa’s husband, David Ciummo, told Reuters the Interpol extradition warrant had to be fulfilled within 10 days of her arrest, hence the expected timing of the transfer.
De Magalhaes e Silva said her case would pose a dilemma for the Italian judiciary.
“What will an Italian judge do when he faces a detainee who has been extradited after a Portuguese court authorized it under the condition that there will be a second trial, while under Italian law that will be difficult to have?” he asked.
The Portuguese and Italian justice ministries declined to comment.
Bolognesi said he would ask a Milan appeals court to defer de Sousa’s sentence, in the hope she would get a pardon like the ones Italy’s president extended last year to two other officials convicted in the case.
“I don’t see why she should not get this pardon as well,” Bolognesi said, adding it was also possible the Italian court could convert the jail sentence into a community service term.
Ciummo said in a telephone interview that his wife was being kept in solitary confinement in comfortable conditions, and that he is allowed to see her every day for an hour. “Her spirits are pretty good,” he said.
The 65-year-old retired civilian U.S. Army employee said de Sousa was detained on Monday while visiting the coastal town of Cascais near Lisbon.
“She was able to call me and said for me to bring some clothes. I went to the police station and left a suitcase with some clothes,” Ciummo said.
He said he understood that the Portuguese authorities had initiated the Interpol warrant and that “the Italians were completely taken by surprise” by his wife’s arrest.
A White House official said that Washington was “deeply disappointed in Ms. de Sousa’s conviction and sentence, and we are following her case closely ... The U.S. government takes its obligation to assist U.S. citizens overseas seriously.”
“We appreciate the efforts of the Italian government to challenge the prosecution before the Italian Constitutional Court,” said the official, adding that the State Department has been in touch with de Sousa.
The CIA declined to comment on the case.
De Sousa’s lawyer told the RTP television channel that “the very least that is expected from the U.S. diplomacy is that it works with the criminal (authorities in Italy) for the situation to be resolved swiftly, at least via a presidential pardon”.
De Sousa, who left the CIA in 2009, was briefly arrested in Portugal in October 2015 at the request of Italian prosecutors. Her passports were confiscated, but she was quickly released.
She says she was outside of Milan in the mountains on the day of the kidnapping, Bolognesi said. Several of her appeals to Portuguese authorities against the extradition failed last year.
Reporting by Andrei Khalip, Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay and Isla Binnie; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Catherine Evans