What do Abu Omar’s extraordinary rendition and Alma Shalabayeva’s expulsion have in common?

The ruling of the Court of Perugia on the illegal expulsion of Alma Shalabayeva issued by the Criminal Court of Perugia on 14 October 2020 reiterates the issue of extraordinary rendition and the activities of the intelligence structures of foreign countries on Italian soil di Andrea Monti – Initially published in Italian by Infosec.News

According to criminal law, extraordinary renditions are kidnappings carried out by the intelligence services of a nation (or on their behalf, by “third parties”) on the territory of other countries. They can be carried out with the explicit support of the “receiving” country, relying on the fact that the local intelligence “turns a blind eye” (or maybe both, and that it also turns deaf), or in total secrecy. In the first case, the apparatuses of the “receiving” country are directly involved and therefore responsible under the Law. In the last two cases, the action violates the national sovereignty of the State in which the fact is committed and “hoping” that no one will notice.

Although justified for the country ordering them, such kind of actions (not only kidnappings but also murders such as in the case of Operation Wrath of God or Alexander Litvinenko’s Polonius’ poisoning) is a violation of the national sovereignty of the country in which they take place.

Recent and public Italian history has recorded two vicissitudes that re-propose the theme of the protection of foreign interests on Italian soil with methods inspired by Machtpolitik and the limits of the check-and-balance system on activities of this kind. The first is the kidnapping in Milan in 2003 of Mullah Abu Omar organised by the CIA in Milan. The second, in 2013, is the expulsion from Italy of Alma Shalabayeva, wife of a Kazakh dissident wanted by the authorities of his country. The expulsion has been, decided and executed lightning-fast and – according to the first instance ruling issued on 14 October 2020 by the court of Perugia – unlawfully so to justify the conviction of two Polizia di Stato officers for kidnapping and false statements.

Of the two, strictly speaking, only the Abu Omar case falls within the definition of “extraordinary rendition”. Instead, the Shalabayeva case is technically part of “normal” activity to combat illegal immigration, since the handing over of the woman to the Kazakh authorities was the logical and legal consequence of an expulsion order. The details revealed by the press at the time of the facts and then emerged during the trial, however, tell a different story whose substance would not be dissimilar from that of the Abu Omar case. Also in this case it seems that international political relations have played a significant role. Everything would have started from an initial contact between Giuseppe Procaccini, the head of cabinet of the then Minister of the Home Affair, Alfano and Kazakh diplomats who would have asked for support for the arrest of a wanted man (but who called himself a political dissident) located in Rome. The Italian authorities did not find the person in question, therefore “switched back” on his wife. The Police hold her in violation of the immigration law and handed her over to the Kazakh authorities after an expulsion procedure that the court in Perugia recognised as illegitimate. As a consequence, the court indicted several people, including two officers of the Polizia di Stato, for kidnapping and false statements given in their official capacity.

The evidence formed during the trial leaves some perplexities on some convictions but only the whole sentence, once public, will be able (maybe) to explain them. What matters, however, is the fact that, unlike in the Abu Omar case where four governments imposed State secrecy, in the Shalabayeva case this did not happen.

It is reasonable to think that we will never know what happened in the “preliminary phases” of the Shalabayeva operation and in particular in the early contacts between the Kazakh and Italian institutions. But the non-imposition of State secrecy suggests that in this case we are not faced with actions carried out in the name of the special interests of the Republic.

Therefore, closing the circle, if it is true that the aim of the Shalabayeva affair was taking hostages and not a criminal, we can undoubtedly qualify this affair as an extraordinary-rendition even if not recognised by the Italian government.

However, the fact that it could have happened, and in the manner described by the press and emerged during the trial, poses a severe problem as to how much, and to what extent, one can invoke State reason to justify particular behaviours. And, above all, we should ask if the time has come, out of all hypocrisy, to regulate also this grey area of institutional activities carried out in the interest of the State, to avoid that “in the name of national security” abuses are committed that damage not only the victims but also the trust of citizens in the Republic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *