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Italy’s justice minister nixes extradition of priest sought by Argentina in murder-torture cases

Rome, Italy

Italy’s justice minister has ruled against the extradition of a former chaplain sought in Argentina on charges of murder and torture during the South American country’s last military dictatorship, human rights advocates said Friday.

In October, Italy’s top criminal court had approved extradition of Rev Franco Reverberi, an 86-year-old Italian priest who had served as military chaplain during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

But Justice Minister Carlo Nordio, in ruling against extradition, cited the priest’s advanced age and poor health. A copy of the ruling was made available by rights advocates who have followed the case.

Under Italy’s justice system, the justice minister either abides by or rejects court decisions on extradition.

It would now be up to Argentina’s new government to decide if it wants to challenge the minister’s decision by going to an Italian administrative cour, said Jorge Ithurburu, who represents the March 24 human rights advocacy group which has followed Argentina’s investigation of Reverberi.

The rights group takes its name from the date in 1976, when a US-backed coup in Argentina installed a military government.

The Cassation ruling in October had upheld a previous decision by a lower court in Bologna to allow extradition of the priest.

Argentina has been seeking Reverberi for trial on charges including the 1976 slaying of 22-year-old José Guillermo Berón and the torture of several other men. The alleged torture took place in the town of San Rafael, near Mendoza, Argentina.

Reverberi left Argentina in 2011 after the first trial for crimes against humanity carried out during the dictatorship took place in the western Mendoza province and the testimonies of survivors and family members began to point to his responsibility, according to Argentina’s government.

Reverberi had emigrated to Argentina from Italy when he was about seven-years-old.

The extradition bid process had several twists and turns.

In August, Nordio had initially approved extradition. But due to a clerical error, the minister was unaware of the priest’s appeal against Argentina’s request to have him sent there for trial when he initially OK’d extradition. Thus, the appeals process went on, leading to the October ruling of the Court of Cassation and to Nordio’s having a second opportunity to have a final say in the matter.

While being considered for extradition, Reverberi had to sign in every day at the local police station in Sorbolo, a small town in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region where he was born and where he occasionally would say Mass.

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A hearing has been set for next week to formally relieve the priest of the sign-in obligation.

According to the advocates, as many as 30,000 people were killed or disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship.

Relatives of Berón could conceivably ask Italian prosecutors to pursue a case against Reverberi as an Italian citizen investigated for murder and other charges abroad, in Argentina, said Ithurburo.

The Catholic Church’s hierarchy in Argentina has been widely criticised for being allied with Argentina’s military regime that ran a campaign to illegally detain and kill people it deemed “subversive”.

When Pope St John Paul II visited the country in 1987, critics lamented his failure to decry church support for military rulers, especially since the pontiff had just arrived from Chile, where he had denounced the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

During the current papacy of Pope Francis, who is Argentine, the Vatican and bishops in his homeland finished cataloging their archives from the military dictatorship with the goal of making them available to victims and their relatives who have long accused church members of being complicit with the military dictatorship.



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