Argentina is unlikely to extradite accused Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke to Italy to be tried in Rome on charges of mass murder, according to a local media report.
On Sunday, the newspaper La Stampa quoted Priebke’s lawyer, Pedro Bianchi, as saying in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires that procedural errors by Italian officials would ensure that Priebke would never be extradited.
“Argentine justice is slow and complex,” Bianchi was quoted as saying. “We are still carrying out a procedural battle, but there are no doubts about the final result: The request for extradition will not be agreed. It was extremely poorly presented and full of errors of form.”
Priebke, 82, is wanted as one of the alleged perpetrators of the mass murder of 335 Romans in 1944. At the time, he was an SS captain and deputy to Herbert Kappler, the Gestapo chief during the Nazi occupation of Rome.
The massacre at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome, which included 75 Jewish victims, was in reprisal for a March 1944 partisan attack that resulted in the deaths of 33 German stormtroopers in Rome.
Kappler ordered that ten Italians be executed for every dead German.
The massacre is considered the worst war crime to have taken place on Italian soil. It has become Italy’ symbol both of the Holocaust and of Nazi repression in general.
Priebke escaped from British prisoner of war camp in 1948, just before he was to appear before a war crimes tribunal. He then fled to Argentina.
He was tracked down last May in the Argentine town of San Carlo Bariloche by ABC News.
Italy formally requested his extradition in May. But despite assurances from Argentine President Carlos Menem that Priebke would be extradited, there has been little progress in the case since then.
Priebke’s lawyer told La Stampa that one problem in the request to hand over Priebke was that Italy had requested his extradition for the specific crime of having murdered five people during the massacre. But Argentina has a statute of limitations of 15 years on murder charges.
He said the extradition treaty between Italy and Argentina forbids extradition if the crime is no longer subject to prosecution in one or the other country.
Last week, La Stampa said, the court tribunal overseeing the extradition request agreed to Bianchi’s demand that all documentation on Priebke from the Italian side be translated into Spanish.
This request, La Stampa reported, would cover some 100,000 pages of documents and would take years to accomplish.