ROME (AP) — Italy's top criminal court on Monday tossed out the convictions of five Italian intelligence agents accused of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric as a terror suspect 11 years ago as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.
In dismissing the 2013 appeals court convictions, the Cassation Court ruled the five should not have been prosecuted because the case involved classified information. They had originally been acquitted by a lower court in the 2003 abduction of the cleric in Milan.
Nicola Madia, a lawyer for the lead defendant, Nicolo Pollari, who had headed Italy's SISMI military intelligence agency, said his client was satisfied with the ruling.
Pollari "wasn't able to defend himself" in the case because certain evidence could not be revealed in court because of state secrecy restrictions, said Madia. Pollari, who still works for the government but no longer in an intelligence agency role, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison by the appeals tribunal.
Monday's ruling vacated the sentences along with the convictions. The Italian justice system allows two levels of appeals, with the Cassation judges having the final say.
The ruling could impact separate Cassation Court proceedings involving three Americans, including a former CIA Rome station chief, who were convicted in absentia by a Milan appeals court regarding the abduction. Their hearing is set for March 11.
Throughout the case, Italian officials and Italy's intelligence services had insisted they were neither aware nor participated in the kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.