(CN) — Not waiting for an extradition request, the U.S. is reportedly deporting former Colombia paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso to a homeland where the convicted warlord believes he will be assassinated.
Mancuso’s removal has been in the works since he completed a 12-year sentence in the United States for cocaine trafficking. In April the Department of Homeland Security ordered Mancuso’s removal to Italy, where he also has citizenship, but El Tiempo reported Sunday that the former commander of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, is now slated to return to his South American home.
The news broke only days after Justice Department attorneys reaffirmed at a federal court hearing in a Washington, D.C., that Mancuso would be sent to Italy no later than Sept. 4.
Mancuso’s attorneys initiated that hearing by claiming that their client was being detained past the 90-day window.
Two people familiar with the proceedings told the Associated Press that U.S. officials substituted Colombia for Italy as the removal destination based on a provision in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the attorney general to disregard the country designated for an alien’s removal if it is deemed that carrying out the order would be “prejudicial to the United States.” The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Mancuso’s attorneys will have two weeks to appeal the deportation order.
One of them, Hector Mora, wrote to Homeland Security in March that his client would likely be tortured or assassinated if returned to Colombia, a country where Mancuso has been convicted of hundreds of war crimes related to more than 1,500 counts of murder or forced disappearance,
“He is the target of many powerful groups and individuals that were incriminated, criticized and exposed throughout his cooperation with the U.S. government, the cooperation with the Colombian judiciary, and his multiple statements,” Mora wrote.
Those statements in 2005 were about the Colombian Congress’ electability, appointed to their positions with the help of paramilitary support. Those comments triggered judicial investigations ending with dozens of elected officials’ indictments and their imprisonment. Among other testimony, Mancuso told the Colombian Supreme Court that a 1997 massacre at El Aro had been planned at the direction of former President Alvaro Uribe.
Though the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque purportedly submitted four requests for Mancuso’s extradition, none were ever validated. The Colombian Press said Foreign Minister Claudia Blum admitted just last week that the claims about two such requests by Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos were false.
Mancuso has been in federal custody since 2008 following an extradition to the U.S. along with 14 other warlords that stalled truth and reconciliation efforts in Columbia. Under a 2003 peace deal Mancuso negotiated, prison terms for militia leaders who confess their crimes are limited to eight years. Mancuso’s lawyers argue he has more than met the requirements through various testimony.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return a request for comment.