14 Jan 2019

Former communist militant Cesare Battisti extradited to Italy

4:22 pm on 14 January 2019

An Italian former communist militant captured in Bolivia is on a plane back to Rome, officials have confirmed.

Former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti sitting aboard a plane chartered by the Italian governement, prior to taking off from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, on January 13, 2019.

Former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti sitting aboard a plane in Bolivia chartered by the Italian government on Sunday. Photo: AFP PHOTO / POLIZIA DI STATO

Cesare Battisti, 64, lived for years in Brazil after escaping an Italian prison but vanished after an arrest warrant was issued last month. He was arrested by a special Interpol team on Saturday evening in Santa Cruz.

Battisti was convicted in 1979 of belonging to a far-left terrorist group outlawed in Italy - the Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC). He escaped from prison in 1981.

Later, he 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.

A handout picture taken by the Bolivian police forces and released on January 13, 2019 shows former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti after he was arrested late on January 12, 2019 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti after he was arrested late on 12 January, 2019 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Photo: AFP PHOTO / HO / BOLIVIAN POLICE

Battisti has admitted to 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.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported he was captured alone on a street of the central Bolivian city, wearing sunglasses and a fake beard, and did not resist or try to escape.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini confirmed that Battisti had been handed over to Italian authorities and a chartered plane had departed from Bolivia.

"The plane carrying Cesare Battisti has just taken off headed for Italy. I am proud and moved," he tweeted.

Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said Battisti had entered Bolivia illegally. Battisti is expected to arrive in Rome on Monday afternoon.

"We are satisfied with this result that our country has been awaiting for too many years," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook ahead of Battisti's extradition.

He thanked the Bolivian authorities and singled out Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his "effective co-operation" that led to Battisti's capture.

The far-right Brazilian leader, who took office on 1 January, had pledged to extradite Battisti. The militant had spent years in Brazil as a refugee, with the support of former left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Lula's successor, President Michel Temer, revoked his status as a permanent resident in December, when an arrest warrant was issued.

Battisti, who has a five-year-old Brazilian son, told AFP last year he would face "torture" and death if he returned to Italy.

Brazilian politician Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president's sons, tweeted to Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini: "Brazil is no longer a land of bandits. The 'little gift' is coming."

The prison escapee who writes police novels

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.

Brazil's then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva granted 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.

Mr Bolsonaro made his intentions clear in October 2018, tweeting (in Portuguese and Italian): "Here I reaffirm my commitment to extradite the terrorist Cesare Battisti, loved by the Brazilian left.

"We will show the world our total repudiation and commitment to the fight against terrorism. Brazil deserves respect!"