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Italian fugitive caught in Bolivia after decades on the run

The former communist militant had been sought for four murders in the 1970s.

Cesare Battisti pictured in Brazil in 2012.
Cesare Battisti pictured in Brazil in 2012.
Image: ANDRE SUSIN/DPA/PA Images

Updated Jan 13th 2019, 5:43 PM

CESARE BATTISTI, A former Italian communist militant sought by Rome for four murders in the 1970s, will be extradited to Rome “in the coming hours”, the Italian government said today.

Battisti, who has been sentenced to life in prison, “will return to Italy in the coming hours, on a flight leaving from Santa Cruz directly to Rome,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte posted on Facebook after speaking to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

He lived for years in Brazil while on the run from Italian justice, and was captured on Saturday in Santa Cruz.

Italy has repeatedly sought the extradition of Battisti, who lived in Brazil for years under the protection of former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), who is now in prison for corruption.

“Italian terrorist Cesare Battisti was detained in Bolivia (Saturday night) and will be soon brought to Brazil, from where he will probably be sent to Italy to serve a life sentence,” Filipe G Martins, a senior aide on international affairs to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tweeted. 

During Brazil’s recent presidential campaign, the far-right Bolsonaro — who took office on 1 January — vowed that if elected he would “immediately” extradite Battisti to Italy.

In mid-December Brazil’s outgoing president, Michel Temer, signed an extradition order for Battisti after a judge ordered his arrest. By then the Italian ex-militant had disappeared.

Battisti (64) was arrested yesterday in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Brazilian police sources told Brazilian media. Italian interior ministry sources confirmed the arrest.

“Battisti was arrested in the street, unarmed and he didn’t resist, responded to police in Portuguese and showed a Brazilian document confirming his identity,” an Italian interior ministry source said. “Now Italy is waiting for him.”

Italian state police said the arrest had been carried out by a joint team of Italian and Bolivian officers with the help of Italy’s counterterrorism section.

According to Italian government sources, Battisti was spotted “with certainty” in Santa Cruz last week and an operation was prepared with local authorities.

False beard and moustache 

Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that the fugitive, wearing a false beard and moustache, was snatched in the street yesterday afternoon by a special Interpol squad.

An Interpol team had targeted their search in Santa Cruz before Christmas, closing in on the Italian fugitive in a few neighbourhoods of the city, the paper reported.

Italy’s envoy to Brazil posted a triumphant tweet upon hearing the news. “Battisti has been arrested! Democracy is stronger than terrorism!,” ambassador Antonio Bernardini wrote.

Italian authorities today dispatched a plane carrying police and secret service agents to Bolivia, the interior ministry said, in apparent preparation for a possible extradition.

“Now it’s necessary to work out if Battisti will make a stopover in Brazil or if he will be brought immediately to Italy. This is a problem that will be decided in the coming hours,” the Italian interior ministry source said.

Prison fugitive, author 

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini thanked the Italian and foreign police who captured “a delinquent who did not deserve the comfortable life on the beach, and who should spend out the rest of his days in prison”.

Bolsonaro’s son, Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, 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 escaped from an Italian prison after being convicted in 1979 of belonging to an outlawed leftist group, the Armed Proletarians for Communism.

He was subsequently 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 which left his 14-year-old son in a wheelchair.

Battisti admitted to being part of the group but denied responsibility for any deaths.

He reinvented himself as an author writing a string of noir novels and in 2004 skipped bail in France, where he had taken refuge. He went to live clandestinely in Brazil until he was arrested in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro.

After years in custody, then-president Lula issued a decree — later upheld by Brazil’s Supreme Court — in 2010 refusing Battisti’s extradition to Italy, and he was freed, angering Italy.

Battisti, who has a five-year-old Brazilian son, last year told AFP he faced “torture” and death if he were ever to be sent back to Italy.

© AFP 2019  

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