Italy plane picking up militant in Bolivia

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FILE - In this 12 April 2012 file photo, Italian Cesare Battisti attends the presentation of his book about his experience in prison in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Italy sent an aircraft to Bolivia on Sunday 13 January 2019 to pick up the fugitive communist militant after he was captured there nearly three decades after he was convicted of murder, setting the stage for a climax to one of Italy’s longest-running sagas. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

ROME — Italy sent an aircraft to Bolivia on Sunday to pick up fugitive communist militant Cesare Battisti after he was captured there nearly three decades after he was convicted of murder. The development sets the stage for a climax to one of Italy’s longest-running efforts to bring a fugitive to justice.

Bolivian police arrested Battisti, 64, overnight. He had been living in Brazil for years, but last month Brazil’s outgoing president signed a decree ordering his extradition, apparently sparking Battisti’s latest flight to try to evade justice.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said a government aircraft was flying to Bolivia and was expected to land Sunday afternoon. The Foreign Ministry vowed to have Battisti extradited “as quickly as possible” and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he would “finish his days in prison” as soon as he steps on Italian soil.

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 was convicted in absentia in 1990.

He has acknowledged membership in the group but has denied killing anyone.

Salvini praised Bolivian police and Brazil’s new government for following through on the case. He called Battisti a “delinquent who doesn’t deserve to live comfortably on the beach but rather to finish his days in prison.”

Battisti lived in France and Mexico before escaping to Brazil to avoid being extradited. He was arrested in Rio de Janeiro in 2007, prompting the Italian government to request that he be handed over. But former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva granted him asylum in 2010.

Battisti was eventually released from jail, but was arrested again in 2017 after he was caught trying to cross the Brazil-Bolivia border carrying the equivalent of about $7,500 in undeclared cash. He was released after a few days.

As a result of that incident, Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal Justice Luiz Fux said in December that Interpol had issued the latest request for Battisti’s arrest on tax evasion and money laundering charges, leading him to issue a Brazilian warrant. Based on that, outgoing Brazilian President Michel Temer signed the decree ordering the extradition.

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