Thursday, February 26, 2015

US pressures Cuba to turn over fugitives

US pressures Cuba to turn over fugitives
By William E. Gibson
Washington Bureau

- Cuba claims the United States is harboring violent criminals and
terrorists and refuses to return them to Cuba
Cuba has indicated it would be willing to send common-criminal fugitives
back to the United States.
- U.S. officials will continue this week to pressure Cuba to turn over
fugitives wanted for Medicare fraud and other crimes in the United States.

Closer cooperation between the two old adversaries could disrupt a
criminal pipeline that has funneled ill-gotten gains from Florida to
Cuba, an organized crime network disclosed last month by the Sun
Sentinel after a year-long investigation.

Some members of Congress are demanding the return of fugitives, hoping
to halt Cuban crime rings and discourage scams.

"I would hope that if those who wish to violate American law understand
that they can't hide from prosecution in Cuba, it would help to deter
people from ripping off American taxpayers," said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch,
a Democrat who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties.

The issue will be raised Thursday when Cuba's alleged links to terrorist
groups are discussed at a House subcommittee hearing.

Chairman Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said Cuban spying and connections to
terrorists jeopardize U.S. security and facilitate "a criminal pipeline
spanning Cuba to Florida."

U.S. officials will get another opportunity to press for the return of
fugitives during diplomatic talks with Cuban leaders set for Friday in
Washington. This second round will focus on establishing embassies while
setting a timetable for separate talks on law-enforcement cooperation.

The hearing and diplomatic talks both stem from a startling change in
U.S. policy to end the isolation of Cuba, encourage communications and
re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

The change, announced in December, revived hopes of retrieving criminals
who fled to Cuba to evade justice, including crooks who bilked Medicare,
robbed insurers and preyed on other victims to the tune of more than $2
billion over two decades. Some live openly in Cuba, defying attempts to
apprehend them, the Sun Sentinel found.

Friday's talks will focus on establishing normal diplomatic relations,
which could pave the way for agreements on the extradition of criminals
holed up in Cuba and Cuba's acceptance of criminals in the United States
who were ordered to be deported.

Cuban leaders are demanding that the State Department remove Cuba from
its list of "state sponsors of terrorism." Cuba has been on the list
partly because it harbors fugitives wanted for terror-related acts. But
critics say the listing is an outmoded relic from a time when Cuba
backed leftist revolutions in other countries.

In the first round of talks last month in Havana, Cuba refused to return
fugitives who committed crimes of a political nature, notably Joanne
Chesimard, a former member of the Black Liberation Army convicted of
shooting a New Jersey patrolman in 1973.

"We've explained to the U.S. government in the past that there are some
people living in Cuba to whom Cuba has legitimately granted political
asylum," Josefina Vidal, Cuba's lead negotiator, told the Associated
Press. She and other Cubans accuse the United States of harboring criminals.

"We've reminded the U.S. government that in its country they've given
shelter to dozens and dozens of Cuban citizens — some of them accused of
horrible crimes, some accused of terrorism, murder and kidnapping,"
Vidal said. "And in every case, the U.S. government has decided to
welcome them."

But Cuban negotiators have indicated a willingness to turn over
fugitives wanted for non-political crimes — the kind who have bilked
Medicare and run scams in Florida.

"In general, they seem prepared and willing to fight common crime," said
Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who
met with U.S. and Cuban officials in Havana.

Some analysts say the Obama administration needs to show benefits from
the negotiations to blunt criticism from Republicans in Congress that
the United States is legitimizing the Castro regime without getting
anything in return.

Results could include an agreement to extradite criminals and to
cooperate on environmental preservation, including safeguards against an
accidental oil spill in Cuban waters.

"Florida benefits immensely from that," said Robert Muse, a Washington
attorney who specializes in Cuban legal matters. "That would start to
show some results from this thing."

U.S. officials say they are pursuing an agreement on both fronts.

"We'll have a separate conversation [with Cuban negotiators] on law
enforcement and fugitives basically as soon as we can set these up,"
Roberta Jacobson, the lead U.S. negotiator, testified at a congressional

An extradition agreement would help put a dent in Medicare fraud in
Florida and elsewhere, anti-fraud experts say.

"That would certainly be a positive thing," said Louis Saccoccio, CEO of
the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association. "Folks who do commit
these types of crimes and go overseas would be subject to return to this
country. That would be helpful. The big challenge is to get the foreign
country to cooperate in that effort.", 202-824-8256

Source: U.S. pressures Cuba to give up criminal fugitives - Sun Sentinel

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