Italian fugitive captured 3 decades after murder conviction

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A handout picture handout by the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato) released on January 13, 2019 shows former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti after he was arrested on January 12, 2019 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. (AFP)
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Former Italian communist militant Cesare Battisti is seen after being arrested in Santa Cruz in this picture provided by Bolivian state information agency, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on January 13, 2019. (ABI/Bolivian Information Agency/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 13 January 2019

Italian fugitive captured 3 decades after murder conviction

  • Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder
  • He was convicted in absentia in 1990 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweler and a butcher

ROME: A left-wing Italian militant who was convicted of murder in his home country nearly three decades ago was arrested in Bolivia, authorities said Sunday, setting the stage for a climactic end to one of Italy’s longest-running efforts to bring a fugitive to justice.
The Italian government sent an aircraft to pick up Cesare Battisti, who was captured by Bolivian police working with Italian agents on the ground in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Italian police said. The 64-year-old had been living in Brazil for years, but Brazil’s outgoing president signed a decree last month ordering his extradition, apparently leading to Battisti’s latest effort to elude authorities.
Italian police released a video of Battisti they said was taken hours before his capture, showing him seemingly oblivious to surveillance cameras tracking him as he walked casually down the street in jeans, a blue T-shirt and sunglasses. A subsequent image showed Battisti’s mug shot under the seal of the Bolivian police.
“Cesare Battisti’s long flight is over,” Justice Minister Alfonso Buonafede declared, adding that he would be taken to Rome’s Rebibbia prison as soon as he landed in Italy.
Battisti was expected to return to Rome aboard the Italian aircraft direct from Santa Cruz “in the coming hours,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said Sunday. He said Italy, and the families of Battisti’s victims, had waited too long for justice.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called Battisti a “delinquent who doesn’t deserve to live comfortably on the beach but rather to finish his days in prison.”
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 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweler and a butcher.
He has acknowledged membership in the group but has denied killing anyone and has painted himself as a political refugee.
After initially fleeing to Mexico, he then went to France, where he joined dozens of left-wing Italian militants who enjoyed official protection from the French government.
Like Battisti, they fled during Italy’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 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 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, hailed Battisti’s arrest, vowed to turn him over to Italy 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 in a reference to da Silva’s Workers’ Party.
Throughout the day Sunday it was unclear if Battisti would need to be transferred first to Brazilian custody before being extradited.
Bolivian government minister Carlos Romero said he would be turned over to Italian authorities in Santa Cruz on the grounds that he had entered the country in an irregular way and was obliged to leave. Citing Bolivia’s migration regulations, he said Battisti was to be handed over to Italian Interpol agents at the local airport.
Salvini praised Bolivian police and Brazil’s new government for following through on the fugitive’s case.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said Battisti should be returned to Italy to “serve his sentence for the grave crimes that stained Italy and let the same be said for all fugitives abroad.”


Pakistani pilot who steered first Emirates flight remembers birth of UAE airline

Updated 18 sec ago

Pakistani pilot who steered first Emirates flight remembers birth of UAE airline

  • The historic flight took off from Dubai to Karachi on Oct. 25, 1985
  • Carrier’s success lies in leadership that prioritizes competence, retired captain says

ISLAMABAD: Thirty-five years after he steered the first Emirates flight, retired Capt. Fazal Ghani Mian says the success of the UAE flag carrier was and remains its competence and merit.

The first Emirates flight, EK600, took off from Dubai to Karachi on Oct. 25, 1985.

Recalling the airline’s birth and having observed its operations for more than three decades, the former chief pilot of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), who flew the Emirates Airbus A300 on its maiden trip, says the UAE flag carrier’s success lies in leadership that prioritizes competence.

“Emirates selects people on merit and they give them responsibility with authority,” he told Arab News in an interview this week. “No outside interference in their job. I am proud that I was a part of competent people who played a role in building Emirates airline from scratch.”

His involvement with Emirates was a result of PIA’s contract with Dubai to provide pilots, engineers and two aircraft to help establish the UAE airline.

“I came to Dubai on Oct. 1, 1985 and met Emirates Airline managing director Maurice Flanagan and their teams,” Mian said. “We discussed the tasks ahead related to the arrival of two aircraft to lay the foundation of the Emirates airline.”

Retired Capt. Fazal Ghani Mian speaks to Arab News in Islamabad on Oct. 28. (AN photo)

“We used to discuss the progress every day and prepare reports, and if there was any problem we found we used to help each other solve it.

“I am grateful to the great leadership of Sheikh Ahmed who was conducting these meetings,” he said, referring to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, the president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and founder of the Emirates Group.

The two aircraft were painted in Emirates colors at a PIA hangar in Karachi, all in secrecy. They were then flown to Dubai.

“On Oct. 18, 1985 a team of engineers, along with two aircraft, arrived at Dubai airport with the Emirates insignia. The aircraft were kept in a hangar at the far corner of the airport away from the public eye,” Mian said.

On Oct. 23, 1985, the Pakistani-Emirati team had to operate five special VIP flights over Dubai.

“On Oct. 22, we received some uniforms very late at night,” the former captain said. “The laundry was closed but a young man working in the hotel took the uniforms and pressed them at his residence and brought it back around midnight.”

“I was praying that nothing bad would happen,” Mian said. “The first Airbus flight was around 11 o’clock and Sheikh Mohammed (bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai) and other royal dignitaries were sitting on the aircraft. We flew over Dubai for 45 minutes and we were escorted by Dubai air force fighter pilots.”

Two days later the UAE flag carrier took off on its first official flight.

“On Oct. 25, we operated the first official flight to Karachi with top royal dignitaries of UAE and employees of Emirates airline on board,” Mian said.

The smooth beginning came with a dream landing.

“Landing was so smooth that nobody realized the aircraft had landed,” Mian said. “This was the beginning of Emirates