An attorney for the Italian Embassy in Argentina has said he received unofficial word that an Argentine court is planning to overturn an extradition order again former SS Capt. Erich Priebke.
The court’s rejection of the extradition order would “mean an international scandal,” said Alberto Zuppi, the lawyer.
Italy’s extradition request, granted last year by Argentine judge Leonidas Moldes, was appealed by Priebke’s defense and is currently before a provincial court.
Meanwhile, Priebke, 82, has remained under house arrest, which Zuppi described as an “unwarranted privilege.”
Zuppi said he wanted to remain optimistic that the court would uphold the extradition order, “and send Priebke to Rome to be judged, but I fear.”
Priebke, who was the wartime deputy to Herbert Kappler, the Gestapo chief during the Nazi occupation of Rome, is wanted by Italy for his role in the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves near Rome on March 23, 1944. He also was reportedly involved in the deportation of thousands of Italian Jews to concentration camps.
After the war, Priebke emigrated to Argentina. In an interview published last year in the Rome daily La Repubblica, Priebke said he fled Italy in 1948 with help from the Vatican.
Last year, after nearly 50 years of quiet life in Bariloche, a picturesque ski resort in southern Argentina with a sizable German colony, Priebke was tracked down by ABC Television, which located him with the help of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Italian authorities requested Priebke’s extradition from Argentina after a broadcast of ABC’s “Prime Time Live” in May 1994, in which Priebke admitted to partaking in the killings at the Ardeatine Caves.
He was subsequently placed under house arrest and, after several months of legal wrangling, Judge Moldes granted the extradition request.
After waiting for Priebke’s extradition for more than a year, Italian authorities decided to try Priebke in absentia for crimes against humanity.
Earlier this month, in what was the first step in the in-absentia proceedings, Italian prosecutor Antonio Intelesano presented Priebke with a list of 12 questions, asking the former SS officer about his responsibilities in Rome during 1944, the number of prisons and prisoners under his command and his part in rounding up Jews in the occupied city.
But on the advice of his attorney, Priebke remained silent throughout the two- hour session, which was presided over by Moldes.
It is expected that Priebke’s case will go to the Argentine Supreme Court regardless of the findings of the provincial court.
“Nevertheless, I hope we don’t have to see Priebke walking free again,” said lawyer Zuppi. “That would be a scandal, particularly in Italy.”