Italy pulls envoy to Brazil in extradition fight

June 10, 2011 - 6:15 AM
Brazil Italian Fugitive

Italian leftist activist fugitive Cesare Battisti leaves prison after Brazil's Supreme Court ordered him freed early Thursday, June 9, 2011. Italy plans to appeal to the International Court of Justice to overturn Brazil's top court Wednesday's decision to bar Battisti's extradition, who is convicted of four murders in the 1970s in his homeland, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday. (AP Photo/Yan Santos)

ROME (AP) — Italy recalled its ambassador to Brazil on Friday after the South American country's top court barred the extradition of an Italian fugitive convicted of four murders in the 1970s.

Cesare Battisti was released from a Brazilian prison on Thursday following the court ruling, sparking outrage in Italy and vows to pursue him in the International Court of Justice.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini recalled Ambassador Gherardo La Francesca to Rome for consultations to discuss Italy's legal options in light of existing bilateral agreements, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

Anger swept across Italy following Battisti's liberation; pictures of the former member of a militant Italian leftist group smiling in a car as he left prison were plastered on all major newspapers Friday.

President Giorgio Napolitano said he "deplored" the decision and backed government actions aimed at pushing Brazil to honor its agreements with Italy. Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the court's decision "wounds our sense of justice and also those who have suffered in those cases."

A group representing victims of terror urged Italy to refuse to participate in the next soccer World Cup in Brazil, while others called for a boycott of Brazilian products.

Brazil's Supreme Court on Wednesday night upheld a December decision by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to grant asylum to the Italian, who claims he is innocent of the murders. Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder, crimes allegedly committed when he was a member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism.

He was convicted in absentia in 1990, and sentenced to life in prison.

The Italian government has repeatedly called for Battisti to be sent home so he can pay for his crimes, and warned that failure to do so would create tension between the two countries.

Battisti's lawyer, Luis Roberto Barroso, said Brazil was morally obligated to turn down Italy's request, noting this country granted amnesty to those charged with political crimes during its military regime that ruled from 1964 to 1985.

Over the years, Battisti has restated his claim of innocence, recently in a book called "My Escape," ("Ma Cavale") published in France in 2006.

"I am guilty, as I have often said, of having participated in an armed group with a subversive aim and of having carried weapons. But I never shot anyone," he wrote.