Cuba says diplomat will surrender protected status, fight spy charges

February 26, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

HAVANA -- Hours before today's deadline for recalling a Cuban diplomat accused of spying in the United States, the Cuban government said the official is willing to surrender his diplomatic immunity so that he can fight the charges against him in U.S. courts.

A second official is prepared to return to the United States from Cuba in an effort to disprove allegations against him, also without protection from his diplomatic status, Cuban authorities said.

The extraordinary offer came a day before a State Department deadline for the vice-consul of Cuba's mission in the United States, Jose Imperatori, to leave the country. The FBI suspects that a senior U.S. immigration official in Miami, Mariano Faget, passed secrets to Imperatori and his predecessor, Luis Molina.

Cuba has refused to recall Imperatori, saying he has done nothing wrong.

U.S. officials have called Havana's position unprecedented and said they would expel Imperatori by force, if necessary, if he remained in the United States after 1: 30 p.m. today.

He also could be jailed.

After the deadline, Imperatori "will no longer have diplomatic status. He can be deported like an illegal alien," said a U.S. official familiar with the case. He called Cuba's offer "just a maneuver to try to make the U.S. look bad."

U.S. authorities expressed confidence in their evidence but said they did not have to make a legal case before declaring someone persona non grata.

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