Latin America

Cesare Battisti: Brazil ‘issues arrest warrant’ for ex-militant

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

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.

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.

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.

Brazil's current President Michel Temer has previously told the BBC he supports Battisti's extradition.

The country's incoming far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to extradite him as soon as he takes office on 1 January 2019.

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!"

Details are still unclear as to whether Battisti has been apprehended. His lawyer told Reuters he currently lives in the town of Cananeia in Sao Paulo state.

The arrest warrant has reportedly been passed onto global policing agency Interpol. The agency did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

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