HOUSTON - Lawyers for an anti-Castro Cuban militant whose immigration fraud case was tossed said yesterday they expect he will remain free while U.S. authorities decide whether and to what country they can deport him.
A federal judge threw out the indictment against Luis Posada Carriles on Tuesday, drawing accusations from Cuba and Venezuela that the White House had manipulated the legal system.
The ruling did not affect a long-standing deportation order against Posada, a former CIA operative whom those countries want extradited in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. Posada, 79, has denied involvement in the attack, which killed 73 people.
Venezuelan and Cuban officials reiterated their demands yesterday that Posada be tried in the U.S. for the bombing or be turned over to Venezuela, where he is a naturalized citizen.
Cuban officials also have accused Posada of other acts of terrorism, including a hotel bombing in Cuba that killed an Italian tourist. Posada has denied those allegations as well.
Posada, a fierce opponent of Fidel Castro, was accused of entering the U.S. illegally and was detained in May 2005. Authorities said he lied about how he entered the country when he sought to become a naturalized U.S. citizen; he was to have gone on trial this week on those allegations.
After being indicted in January, Posada was freed on bond and put under house arrest connected to his criminal trial.
Eduardo Soto, a Florida-based attorney representing Posada on his immigration case, said yesterday he believes immigration authorities will probably allow Posada to remain free with a requirement that he regularly report to officials until they find a country willing to take him.
In throwing out the fraud indictment, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone said the government manipulated Posada's naturalization interview. She said the government's Spanish-to-English interpretation of the April 2006 interview was "so inaccurate as to render it unreliable as evidence of defendant's actual statement."
Cardone agreed with defense attorneys who argued that the naturalization interview had been a pretext for a criminal investigation of Posada.
A Justice Department spokesman said prosecutors were reviewing the ruling.
An immigration judge ruled in 2005 that Posada be deported, but not to Cuba, where he was born, or Venezuela because of fears he could be tortured. Several other countries have refused to take him.
In Havana, the Communist Party daily Granma criticized Cardone's decision in the fraud case yesterday, saying: "The terrorist is free, impunity is consummated."
"The decision to free Posada was taken a long time ago by the White House," the newspaper said in a front-page report.
A Washington-based lawyer representing the Venezuelan government, Jose Pertierra, said the lack of more serious charges against Posada suggests he "has a friend in the White House."
"The indictment that should be brought in this case is for murder, for 73 counts of first-degree murder, or an extradition," Pertierra said yesterday *.