New Delhi, Jan 21: On Jan 15, 2016, a former CIA employee of Indian origin was ordered by a Portuguese Court to serve out a six year prison term.
The court also ordered her to be sent to Italy so that she could serve that sentence. This was an important development, but went largely unnoticed.
This incident involving Sabrina de Sousa, who is of Indian origin and also a former CIA employee, raises the question of whether there is enough immunity officers with the intelligence enjoy.
Sabrina de Sousa was prevented from boarding a flight at Lisbon airport in Oct 2015 because of a 2009 conviction by an Italian court.
She was on her way to Goa to see her 89-year-old mother. On Jan 15, the Portuguese Court decided that she should be sent to Italy to serve her six year prison sentence.
Intelligence officers need immunity:
Intelligence officials at times work in the toughest of conditions. The covert operations that they undertake involves a great deal of risk.
In most of the cases when a spy is caught in a foreign land his government often does not do much to secure his release.
Former Officer with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), V Balachandran tells OneIndia that those in the government, who speak loosely about covert operations, must consider providing basic legal protection to officers with the intelligence first.
The UPA government failed to consider this in 2014-15 when the CBI wanted to prosecute some IB officers.
Even the NDA government has not given it much thought. They have pushed the issue under the carpet by refusing to give sanction to prosecute, Balachandran says.
The case against Sabrina de Sousa:
Her case goes back to Feb 17, 2003, when the US-led "War on Terror" was raging. Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric, was abducted by the CIA and Italian military Intelligence (SISMI) from Milan.
He was flown to Egypt and made to stand trial. However, the Egyptian court discharged him in 2007.
The Italian prosecutors, who do not take orders from the government, indicted 26 CIA officers, including the Rome station chief and senior SISMI officials for kidnapping.
Cell phone conversations were produced to prove their involvement. USA tried to evade this process by withdrawing all CIA officials before trial, including Sabrina de Sousa, then posted at Milan.
The Italian government initially refused the prosecutors' request to get all the 26 CIA officials extradited.
However, the prosecutors invoked the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) asking all EU member states to arrest them. The trial started in June 2007.
This was said to be the first trial questioning the US practice of "extraordinary rendition". The CIA officials were convicted in absentia on Nov 4, 2009 to varying degrees of prison sentences ranging from 3 to 10 years.
Their sentences were enhanced by the appeals court & finally confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012. Later some of the SISMI officials were pardoned by the Italian government.
Following the Supreme Court order, the Italian government started pursuing extradition proceedings for securing presence of convicted CIA officials.
In July 2013 they asked Panama to stop the former CIA Milan Chief from going out of that country. However, Panama allowed him to leave citing technical grounds.
The officer had by then retired from the CIA.
Sabrina de Sousa who was working as a translator at Milan also retired from CIA in 2009.
Following her conviction she sued the CIA and US government for failing to protect her by not claiming diplomatic immunity. The suit failed.
Also there was no certainty that she would have been saved even if this was done. Three other US employees who were granted diplomatic immunity and who were acquitted in 2009 were convicted in absentia when the appeals court reversed the judgment in 2013. Two were sentenced to six years and the third to a seven-year term.