Ital­ian fugi­tive cap­tured 28 years af­ter con­vic­tion

Left-wing mil­i­tant ar­rested in Bo­livia af­ter flee­ing Brazil

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By 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.

The Ital­ian govern­ment sent an air­craft to pick up Ce­sare Bat­tisti, who was cap­tured by Bo­li­vian po­lice work­ing with Ital­ian agents on the ground in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Ital­ian po­lice said. The 64-year-old had been liv­ing in Brazil for years, but Brazil’s outgoing pres­i­dent signed a de­cree last month or­der­ing his ex­tra­di­tion, ap­par­ently lead­ing to Bat­tisti’s lat­est ef­fort to elude au­thor­i­ties.

Ital­ian po­lice re­leased a video of Bat­tisti 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 was ex­pected to re­turn to Rome aboard the Ital­ian air­craft direct from Santa Cruz “in the com­ing hours,” Ital­ian Pre­mier Giuseppe Conte said Sun­day. He said Italy, and the fam­i­lies of Bat­tisti’s vic­tims, had waited too long for jus­tice.

Ital­ian In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini called Bat­tisti a “delin­quent who doesn’t de­serve to live com­fort­ably on the beach but rather to fin­ish his days in prison.”

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 jew­eler and a butcher.

He has ac­knowl­edged mem­ber­ship in the group but has 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 left­wing Ital­ian mil­i­tants who en­joyed of­fi­cial pro­tec­tion from the French govern­ment.

Like Bat­tisti, they fled dur­ing Italy’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 for­mer 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 $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, vowed to turn him over to Italy 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.

Mil­i­tant Ce­sare Bat­tisti had been liv­ing in Brazil.

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