Brazil’s ‘little gift’ to Italy: fugitive returned
MILAN: Italian former leftist guerilla Cesare Battisti, convicted of murder and on the run for almost four decades after escaping jail, was due to land in Rome last night after being arrested while wearing a false beard in Bolivia.
A plane left the Santa Cruz international airport in Bolivia just before 5pm on Sunday (8am yesterday AEDT) after local authorities handed over the 64-yearold fugitive to their Italian counterparts.
“The airplane with Battisti has just left for Italy: I’m proud and delighted,” Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, tweeted.
Battisti was arrested on Saturday in Santa Cruz de la Sierra by an Interpol team. Disguised in a false beard and moustache, he gave up without a struggle, Italian Interior Ministry sources said.
Jailed in 1979 for belonging to the outlawed Armed Proletarians for Communism group, Battisti had been on the run since escaping prison in 1981. He was convicted in absentia of having killed two Italian policemen, taking part in the murder of a butcher and helping plan the slaying of a jeweller who died in a shootout that left his 14-year-old son in a wheelchair in the 1970s.
After escaping, he lived in France before fleeing to Brazil in 2004 to avoid extradition. Battisti, who has a five-year-old Brazilian son, lived clandestinely in Brazil until he was arrested in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro. In 2010, left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is now in prison for corruption, issued a decree — later upheld by Brazil’s Supreme Court — refusing Battisti’s extradition to Italy, and he was freed, angering Rome.
However, the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, who took office this month, pledged to return Battisti to Italy. In mid-December Brazil’s outgoing president, Michel Temer, signed an extradition decree for Battisti after a judge ordered his arrest, but by then he had vanished again.
Battisti’s lawyers in Brazil filed an emergency motion yesterday to try to stay his extradition, but the president of the country’s Supreme Court, Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli, denied it.
Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said Battisti had been found on the streets after entering Bolivia illegally.
According to Italian government sources, Battisti was spotted “with certainty” in Santa Cruz last week and an operation was prepared with local authorities.
An Interpol team had targeted their search in Santa Cruz before Christmas, closing in on the Ital- ian fugitive in a few of the city’s neighbourhoods, the local El Deber de Santa Cruz newspaper said.
Battisti had filed for asylum without receiving any response from authorities, Bolivia’s ombudsman said.
He had been hoping to find favour with Bolivia’s left-wing President, Evo Morales, after saying in his asylum request that he’d been forced to quit Brazil due to “the ominous coincidence” that Italy and Brazil were both now run by “far-right” governments.
Mr Salvini thanked Mr Bolsonaro and the new Brazilian government “with all my heart for the changed political climate”. The head of the League party was one of the first top European politicians to endorse Mr Bolsonaro.
Mr Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo, tweeted in Italian with a picture of Battisti: “Brazil is no longer the land of bandits. Matteo Salvini, the ‘little gift’ is on its way”.
Battisti, who became a crime novel writer, said last year that he feared he would be tortured and killed if he were sent back to Italy.
Cesare Battisti on the flight back to Italy yesterday