PANAMA CITY — A former CIA base chief convicted in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect from an Italian street has been detained in Panama after Italy requested his arrest in one of the most notorious episodes of the U.S. program known as extraordinary rendition, Italian and Panamanian officials said Thursday.
Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan, was detained after he entered Panama and unsuccessfully tried to cross the border into Costa Rica, according to an Italian official familiar with Italy’s investigation of the rendition of Cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case.
A Panamanian National Police official said Lady, 59, had been detained yesterday on the Costa Rica-Panama border. The official also spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of authorization to discuss the matter.
The government of Panama, which maintains one of the region’s closest relationships with the U.S., was officially silent on the case. Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino told The Associated Press that he was unaware of Lady’s detention and the press office of the National Police — which works with Interpol, the international police agency — said it had no information. The CIA also declined to comment.
Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was abducted in February 2003 and transferred to U.S. military bases, first in Italy then Germany, before being flown to Egypt. He alleged he was tortured in Egypt before being released.
Italy conducted an aggressive investigation and charged a series of CIA and other U.S. government employees, despite objections from Washington, in a case that led to the first convictions of agents involved in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program
Lady was sentenced to nine years in prison by an Italian appeals court in Milan this after being tried in absentia. Two other Americans were also tried and convicted.
Lady, who was born in Honduras, left Italy early into the Italian investigation of the abduction. He also retired from the CIA. Interpol had issued a request for Lady’s arrest, reflecting Italy’s determination to get him back.
Italy and Panama have no extradition treaty, Italian diplomats said, but Panama would be free to send Lady to Italy if it wanted.
The previous Italian government had said that because Italian law only allows extradition to be requested for people who have been sentenced to more than four years in prison, Lady would be the only person convicted in the rendition case who could be sought for extradition.
A 2006 amnesty in Italy shaves three years off all sentences meted out by Italian courts, meaning if Lady is brought back to Italy, he would face six years in prison.
D’Emilio reported from Rome. Adam Goldman in Washington contributed to this report.