SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — A fugitive former CIA base chief detained in Panama this week was being sent to the United States instead of Italy, which wanted him to serve prison time in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect, the Obama administration said Friday.
Robert Seldon Lady was held in Panama on Thursday after Italy and Interpol requested his arrest for his role in the anti-terrorism program known as extraordinary rendition. After barely a day in detention, he was put on a plane to the U.S. by the Panamanian government, a close U.S. ally.
“It’s my understanding that he is in fact either en route or back in the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. She declined to disclose other details.
Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Lap Pistelli, said in a statement that Italy ‘’acknowledges” Panama’s decision, adding nothing more about the case. Italy and Panama have no extradition treaty, Italian diplomats said, but Panama would have been free to send Seldon Lady to Italy if it wanted.
Panamanian Public Safety Minister Jose Mulino said later in the day that Seldon Lady was sent to the United States because Italy didn’t formally request his extradition within the allotted time.
“The man was detained for 48 to be extradited but the extradition request was never made formally in that span of time and he had to be released,” Mulino said.
Seldon Lady, 59, tried to cross from Panama to the Costa Rican border town of Paso Canoas around 10:30 a.m on Thursday, but a check of his passport triggered an Interpol alert, said Andrea Quesada, a spokeswoman for Costa Rica’s directorate of immigration. A Costa Rican border official called Interpol, which advised that Seldon Lady shouldn’t be detained in Costa Rica, which has limited extradition powers, but could be held in Panama.