By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — A left-wing Italian militant who was convicted of murder three decades ago arrived in Rome on Monday to serve a life prison sentence, after his life as a celebrity fugitive came to an abrupt end with his arrest in Bolivia by a team of Interpol agents.
An Italian military aircraft carrying Cesare Battisti landed at Rome’s Ciampino airport shortly after 11:30 a.m. local time after an overnight flight from Bolivia. As snipers kept close watch, Battisti emerged and descended from the plane, surrounded by police.
Wearing a brown jacket, a look of resignation and no handcuffs, Battisti was escorted to an airport facility to be processed — a remarkably quick finale to one of Italy’s most drawn-out and politicized efforts to bring a fugitive home.
“Today to the world, we say no one can escape Italian justice,” Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede said from the airport tarmac, with Italy’s interior minister by his side.
Battisti was arrested Saturday in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, where he was located by intelligence agents after using one of his mobile devices. Italy sent an aircraft to pick him up and bring him back for the first time since he fled Italy in 1981 as he was awaiting trial.
The 64-year-old, who became a successful author during his life on the run, had lived openly in Brazil and France for years and enjoyed the protection of left-wing governments on both sides of the Atlantic, much to the consternation of Italy.
But Brazil’s outgoing president signed a decree last month ordering his extradition, apparently sparking Battisti’s latest effort to flee to Bolivia, where he had tried unsuccessfully to obtain political asylum.
Battisti escaped from an Italian prison 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 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweler and a butcher.
He acknowledged membership in the group but denied killing anyone and painted himself as a political refugee who would face certain torture or death in Italy.
After initially fleeing to Mexico, he then settled in France, where he joined dozens of left-wing Italian militants who enjoyed official protection from the French government.
Like Battisti, they fled Italy during that nation’s “years of lead,” a bloody and turbulent era during the 1970s and 1980s when militants on the left and right carried out bombings, assassinations and other violent acts to try to bring down the Italian government.
After political winds shifted in France, Battisti fled to Brazil in 2004 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 then Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva granted him political 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 a 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 fugitive’s extradition.
Brazil’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, vowed to follow through with his extradition, hailed Battisti’s arrest and denounced da Silva’s government for having granted the Italian asylum.
“Finally, there will be justice for the Italian assassin and partner of ideas of one of the most corrupt governments to ever exist,” Bolsonaro tweeted Sunday in a reference to da Silva’s Workers’ Party.
Bolivia’s public defender, David Tezanos, said Battisti formally requested asylum in Bolivia on Dec. 21, but he hadn’t received a response from the leftist government of President Evo Morales. Tezanos said Battisti’s rights were being violated with his hasty expulsion.
Brazil’s foreign and justice ministries said in a joint statement that Battisti “will leave Bolivia direct to Italy to serve his life sentence.”
The statement was significant since under Brazilian law people extradited to serve life sentences must have their sentences capped at 30 years — a concession rejected by Italian officials on Sunday in insisting that Battisti serve his full term. By capturing Battisti in Bolivia and avoiding his return to Brazil, Italy wasn’t bound to observe Brazil’s cap on the sentence.
Battisti will serve his sentence at Rome’s Rebibbia prison.
Associated Press writers Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Paola Flores in La Paz, Bolivia, contributed to this report.