Cesare Battisti: Brazil issues arrest warrant for ex-militant

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Cesare Battisti: Brazil issues arrest warrant for ex-militant

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Battisti denies responsibility for the murders

An arrest warrant has been issued in Brazil for a former communist militant wanted for four murders in Italy during the 1970s.

Cesare Battisti has lived in Brazil as a refugee with the backing of former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But incoming far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to extradite him.

Battisti told AFP last year he faced "torture" and death if he were to be sent back to Italy.

Brazil's Federal Police and Ministry of Justice, together with Battisti's lawyer, have confirmed the warrant, following initial reports by local media.

Police also told the BBC his whereabouts are currently unknown.

In 1979, the militant was convicted of belonging to a far-left terrorist group outlawed in Italy – the Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC).

He escaped prison in 1981. Later, Battisti was convicted in absentia for killing two Italian law officials, for taking part in a separate murder and for planning another which left the victim's 14-year-old son in a wheelchair after a shoot-out.

Battisti has admitted being part of the PAC but denies responsibility for the murders.

Since his escape, he has gone on to became a successful writer of police novels.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Cesare Battisti signs a copy of his book written in prison, At the Foot of the Wall, during a launch event in Brazil

Battisti lived in France and Mexico before escaping to Brazil to avoid being extradited. He was arrested by Brazilian authorities in 2007, prompting the Italian government to request his extradition under an existing bilateral treaty.

But Brazil's then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva granted Mr Battisti refugee status in 2010, a move that drew strong criticism from Italy.

Battisti was arrested again in 2017 for carrying a large amount of undeclared cash whilst trying to cross into Bolivia from Brazil.

'Brazil deserves respect!'

Since 2009, Brazil's presidency has had the power to deny the extradition of individuals, regardless of the evidence against them.

Last October, Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux temporarily delayed a renewed extradition decision against Battisti whilst the court deliberated on whether or not his former protection could be overruled by subsequent presidents.

On Thursday, Justice Fux ruled that former president Lula's decision could be reversed and an arrest warrant was issued, according to Globo TV.

Details are still unclear as to whether Battisti has been apprehended. His lawyer Igor Tamasauskas told BBC Brasil he had no information on his client's whereabouts.

"Usually the lawyers know of this sort of decision when the client has already been arrested. We got to know of the decision before the arrest," said Mr Tamasauskas.

He added: "In between the arrest warrant and its execution, Battisti had time to decide what to do. It is his personal decision and he is aware of the consequences."

The arrest warrant has reportedly been passed onto Interpol. The global policing agency said it had no comment.

Minister of Justice Torquato Jardim told the BBC he did not wish to share details about the case.

Asked if current President Michel Temer would try to extradite Battisti or if he would leave the decision to a future president, Mr Jardim said: "This is what we are deciding now. We don't know yet."

Mr Temer has previously said he supports Battisti's extradition.

Brazil's incoming far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who takes office from 1 January 2019, has also pledged to extradite Battisti.

In October, Mr Bolsonaro tweeted (in Portuguese and Italian): "We will show the world our total repudiation and commitment to the fight against terrorism. Brazil deserves respect!"

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