Italian fugitive captured 3 decades after murder conviction

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A handout picture handout by the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato) released on January 13, 2019 shows former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti after he was arrested on January 12, 2019 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. (AFP)
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Former Italian communist militant Cesare Battisti is seen after being arrested in Santa Cruz in this picture provided by Bolivian state information agency, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on January 13, 2019. (ABI/Bolivian Information Agency/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 13 January 2019

Italian fugitive captured 3 decades after murder conviction

  • Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder
  • He was convicted in absentia in 1990 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweler and a butcher

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 left-wing 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.
Throughout the day Sunday it was unclear if Battisti would need to be transferred first to Brazilian custody before being extradited.
Bolivian government minister Carlos Romero said he would be turned over to Italian authorities in Santa Cruz on the grounds that he had entered the country in an irregular way and was obliged to leave. Citing Bolivia’s migration regulations, he said Battisti was to be handed over to Italian Interpol agents at the local airport.
Salvini praised Bolivian police and Brazil’s new government for following through on the fugitive’s case.
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.”


Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.