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Official: Italian fugitive could be free soon

Official: Italian fugitive could be free soon

An imprisoned leftist Italian fugitive wanted for murder in his home country could be released within hours as a political refugee in Brazil, an official said Wednesday. Italy expressed regret at the action.
Cesare Battisti, convicted in Italy for two 1970s political killings he denies committing, will be freed as soon as the president or vice president of Brazil's Supreme Court signs his release order, a spokeswoman for the court said on condition of anonymity, per court rules.
Brazil's Justice Minister Tarso Genro granted Battisti refugee status "based on the fear of persecution" if he is extradited to Italy, the ministry said in a statement late Tuesday.
He had faced life in prison in Italy and Brazilian law forbids the extradition of foreigners who face more than 30 years in prison.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said on Wednesday that Battisti's refugee status cannot be revoked by the Supreme Court, but that he must remain in prison until the court grants his release.
Battisti has been held since his November 2007 arrest in Rio de Janeiro on an Interpol request.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini expressed "surprise and great regret" that the extradition was blocked and said he urged Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to push for a reversal of the decision.
Genro's decision to grant refugee status contradicted a ruling in November by the Brazil's National Committee for Refugees, which recommended extradition.
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 fled to France, where he reinvented himself as a mystery writer.
An Italian court later tried and convicted him in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison for the murders of a prison guard and a butcher in the late 1970s. He has not been tried for the two others, one involving a police officer.
Authorities believe Battisti fled to Brazil in 2004 after France changed its tacit policy of allowing Italian militants to remain in the country if they renounced their militant ways.
In 2004, Battisti said in an interview with a French newspaper that his murder convictions were based on testimony by paid informants and that he was innocent.
"I never killed, and I can say it looking in the eyes of the victims' parents and the judges," Battisti told Le Journal du Dimanche. "Everything is based on the word of turncoats, people paid to talk."
Other high-profile fugitives who have tried to hide in Latin America's largest country include British bank robber Ronald Biggs, who spent 21 years living openly in Brazil before voluntarily returning to England in 2001. Brazil had no extradition treaty with Great Britain.


Updated : 2021-02-28 06:38 GMT+08:00