Italy seeks extradition of 139 suspects in South America's Dirty War
Italy is requesting the extradition of more than 100 former South American leaders and their underlings over the disappearance, torture and death of Italians who were caught up in a crackdown on dissent in the 1970s and '80s, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Authorities have made the requests for 139 people involved in the military dictatorships of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay and accused in the kidnapping and murder of 25 Italian dissidents, said Giancarlo Capaldo, the lead prosecutor in the case.
The suspects include Argentina's former junta leader Jorge Videla and Uruguay's former dictator Juan Bordaberry. Capaldo said he expects replies to the extradition requests from various governments in the coming months.
But in an interview with The Associated Press in his office, he said court proceedings could go ahead even if the officials are not extradited, as Italian law allows suspects to be tried in absentia.
"The families of the victims who did not receive justice have come to us because in their countries no trials were held for these facts," Capaldo said. "Even after so many years, there is a need for justice to be done."
Other European countries have attempted to try those allegedly involved in the so-called Dirty War, but their efforts have often failed or resulted in convictions in absentia.
All those named in Capaldo's probe are under investigation for kidnapping and multiple counts of aggravated murder. If brought to trial in Italy, they could be given life sentences.
"I hope there will be a collaboration that will help the world's public opinion understand what happened in those years," Capaldo said, adding that he has already had informal contacts with magistrates in South America and in other European countries that have sought to prosecute Dirty War suspects.
Capaldo said he began his investigation in 1998 following complaints by the victims' relatives and slowly widened the probe to include not only those materially responsible for the crimes but also the leaders and officers who orchestrated a region-wide search for opposition members.
Under the plan, known as Operation Condor, the authoritarian governments that dominated South America worked together to crack down on rebels and political dissidents, resulting in the death and disappearance of unknown thousands.
"They were responsible for the Condor plan and they made it possible for this repression mechanism to work," Capaldo said.
Officials sought by Capaldo include Argentine Navy chief Adm. Emilio Eduardo Massera, who was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison in Argentina, and Navy officer Juan Carlos Larcebeau. Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was also under investigation until his death in 2006.
The Italian victims listed in the case include Juan Montiglio, a guard of Chilean President Salvador Allende who was arrested, tortured and killed during the 1973 coup staged by Pinochet, Capaldo said. Also investigated was the death of a former priest in Chile and the disappearance of a member of an Argentine leftist guerrilla group who was seized in 1980 at Rio de Janeiro's airport.
So far, Capaldo's probe has yielded only one arrest: Nestor Jorge Fernandez Troccoli, a former Navy intelligence officer from Uruguay who recently became an Italian citizen and resident, was arrested last month near the southern city of Salerno. Capaldo plans to seek charges against him for the disappearance of six Italian dissidents in Uruguay.
Troccoli's lawyer, Adolfo Domingo Scarano, said that the 60-year-old former officer had acknowledged conducting interrogations during Bordaberry's regime but was not involved in or aware of any kidnappings, torture or killings.
"There is no valid proof for any of the accusations," Scarano said by telephone.
Italy has received an extradition request for Troccoli from Uruguay, but the Justice Ministry, which must rule on these requests, is likely to give precedence to the Italian trial, Capaldo said.
Several of those being sought by Italy are also facing prosecution at home for human rights abuses, among them Videla and Bordaberry, who seized control of Uruguay with military backing during a 1973 coup.
Bordaberry was detained in late 2006 and faces 14 homicide charges related to Dirty War killings. He is under house arrest due to health problems.
Videla is also under house arrest in Buenos Aires, while he is prosecuted on a range of human rights charges, and already has numerous pending extradition requests from European nations. Argentine authorities have generally opposed granting such requests, saying prosecution at home takes precedence in cases of suspected crimes committed on Argentine soil.
Italy has gone after Dirty War suspects before. In March, a court gave life sentences to five former members of Argentina's military tried in absentia for murdering three Italians in the 1970s.
Spain attempted to try Pinochet, having him arrested in London in 1998 on a warrant issued by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon. Pinochet was later ruled too frail to stand trial and allowed to return home.
Garzon also indicted Argentine junta-era officer Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, who was extradited from Mexico City to Madrid in 2003 and faces genocide, terrorism and other charges.
In 1990, a French court sentenced former Argentine naval Capt. Alfredo Astiz in absentia to life in prison for the abduction of two French nuns who were taken to a clandestine torture center in Buenos Aires and later disappeared.