Ital­ian fugi­tive cap­tured three decades af­ter con­vic­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS | WORLD - NI­COLE WIN­FIELD

ROME — A left-wing Ital­ian mil­i­tant who was con­victed of mur­der in his home coun­try nearly three decades ago was ar­rested in Bo­livia, au­thor­i­ties said Sun­day, set­ting the stage for a cli­mac­tic end to one of Italy’s long­est-run­ning ef­forts to bring a fugi­tive to jus­tice.

Hours later, Ce­sare Bat­tisti was handed over to Ital­ian cus­tody, of­fi­cials said, and he left on a plane car­ry­ing him back to Italy to serve a life sen­tence.

He was cap­tured by Bo­li­vian and Ital­ian of­fi­cers in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where he was lo­cated by in­tel­li­gence agents af­ter us­ing one of his mo­bile de­vices, Ital­ian po­lice and RAI state tele­vi­sion said.

The 64-year-old had lived openly in Brazil for years and en­joyed the pro­tec­tion of left-wing gov­ern­ments on both sides of the At­lantic. But Brazil’s out­go­ing pres­i­dent signed a de­cree last month order­ing his ex­tra­di­tion, ap­par­ently spark­ing Bat­tisti’s lat­est ef­fort to flee.

Ital­ian po­lice re­leased a video of Bat­tisti that they said was taken hours be­fore his cap­ture, show­ing him seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to surveil­lance cam­eras track­ing him as he walked ca­su­ally down the street in jeans, a blue T-shirt and sun­glasses. A sub­se­quent image showed Bat­tisti’s mug shot un­der the seal of the Bo­li­vian po­lice. “Ce­sare Bat­tisti’s long flight is over,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Al­fonso Buon­afede de­clared, adding that he would be taken to Rome’s Re­bib­bia prison as soon as he landed in Italy.

Bat­tisti es­caped from an Ital­ian prison in 1981 while await­ing trial on four counts of mur­der al­legedly com­mit­ted when he was a mem­ber of the Armed Pro­le­tar­i­ans for Com­mu­nism. He was con­victed in ab­sen­tia in 1990 and faces a life term for the deaths of two po­lice of­fi­cers, a jew­eller and a butcher.

He ac­knowl­edged mem­ber­ship in the group but de­nied killing any­one and has painted him­self as a po­lit­i­cal refugee.

Af­ter ini­tially flee­ing to Mex­ico, he then went to France, where he joined dozens of left-wing Ital­ian mil­i­tants who en­joyed of­fi­cial pro­tec­tion from the French gov­ern­ment.

Like Bat­tisti, they fled Italy dur­ing that na­tion’s “years of lead,” a bloody and tur­bu­lent era dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s when mil­i­tants on the left and right car­ried out bomb­ings, as­sas­si­na­tions and other vi­o­lent acts to try to bring down the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter po­lit­i­cal winds shifted in France, Bat­tisti fled to Brazil in 2004 to avoid be­ing ex­tra­dited. He was ar­rested in Rio de Janeiro in 2007, prompt­ing the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment to re­quest that he be handed over. But then Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva granted him asy­lum in 2010.

Bat­tisti was even­tu­ally re­leased from jail but was ar­rested again in 2017 af­ter he was caught try­ing to cross the Brazil-Bo­livia bor­der car­ry­ing the equiv­a­lent of about US$7,500 in un­de­clared cash. He was re­leased af­ter a few days.

As a re­sult of that in­ci­dent, Brazil­ian Supreme Fed­eral Tri­bunal Jus­tice Luiz Fux said in De­cem­ber that Interpol had is­sued a re­quest for Bat­tisti’s ar­rest on tax eva­sion and money laun­der­ing charges, lead­ing him to is­sue a Brazil­ian war­rant. Based on that, out­go­ing Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer signed the de­cree order­ing the fugi­tive’s ex­tra­di­tion.

Brazil’s new right-wing pres­i­dent, Jair Bol­sonaro, hailed Bat­tisti’s ar­rest and de­nounced da Silva’s gov­ern­ment for hav­ing granted the Ital­ian asy­lum.

“Fi­nally, there will be jus­tice for the Ital­ian as­sas­sin and part­ner of ideas of one of the most cor­rupt gov­ern­ments to ever ex­ist,” Bol­sonaro tweeted in a ref­er­ence to da Silva’s Work­ers’ Party.

Bo­livia’s pub­lic de­fender, David Tezanos, said Bat­tisti for­mally re­quested asy­lum in Bo­livia on Dec. 21, but he had not re­ceived a re­sponse from the left­ist gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales. Tezanos said Bat­tisti’s rights were be­ing vi­o­lated with his hasty ex­pul­sion.

Brazil’s for­eign and jus­tice min­istries said in a joint state­ment that Bat­tisti “will leave Bo­livia di­rect to Italy to serve his life sen­tence.” The state­ment was sig­nif­i­cant since, un­der Brazil­ian law, peo­ple ex­tra­dited to serve life sen­tences must have their sen­tences capped at 30 years — a con­ces­sion re­jected by Ital­ian of­fi­cials on Sun­day in in­sist­ing that Bat­tisti serve his full term.

Ital­ian In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini praised Bo­li­vian po­lice and Brazil’s new gov­ern­ment for fol­low­ing through on the fugi­tive’s case. He called Bat­tisti a “delin­quent who doesn’t de­serve to live com­fort­ably on the beach but rather to fin­ish his days in prison.”

Ital­ian Pres­i­dent Ser­gio Mattarella said Bat­tisti should be re­turned to Italy to “serve his sen­tence for the grave crimes that stained Italy and let the same be said for all fugi­tives abroad.”

SIL­VIA IZQUIERDO / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Ital­ian mil­i­tant Ce­sare Bat­tisti was cap­tured in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bo­livia.

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