Italian state-run television has reportedly paid accused Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke $30,000 for a one-hour interview.
The interview, broadcast here on Aug. 31, and the reported payment, heightened the controversy surrounding the former SS captain, who is wanted by the Italian government for his alleged role in one of the worst massacres to have taken place during World War II in Italy.
The interview with Italian state-run television, known as RAI, took place as Italy continues to push Argentina for Priebke’s extradition so that he can stand trial for his role in the massacre of 335 men, including 75 Jews, at the Ardeatine Caves near Rome on March 23, 1944.
A World Jewish Congress official in New York called the $30,000 payment “blood money,” adding that the actions of Italian television are a “moral outrage.”
A RAI official denied that a payment was made for the interview, which took place in Priebke’s home in Bariloche, a ski resort with a sizable German colony in Argentina.
In the interview, Priebke said the Roman Catholic Church made possible his 1948 escape to Argentina, where he has lived ever since.
“A Franciscan priest helped us and we obtained passports through the International Red Cross,” Priebke, now 82, told RAI.
In an interview last year, Priebke said he had received indirect help from the Vatican in moving to Argentina.
But in last week’s interview, he said he did not know whether the pope was aware that the church had helped him escape.
Priebke also told RAI that he had visited Italy twice since his escape, including a trip to Rome 15 years ago, when he met with another former Nazi wanted in connection with the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves.
In addition, Priebke, who also served as the deputy to Gestapo Chief Herbert Kappler during the Nazi occupation of Rome, was reportedly involved with the deportation of thousands of Italian Jews to the concentration camps.
The Argentine Supreme Court will now rule on the extradition. On Aug. 23, an appellate court overturned the original May 4 extradition order on the grounds that the 15-year statute of limitations for murder under Argentine law expired.
After nearly five decades of quiet life in Bariloche, Priebke was arrested last year after being tracked down by ABC Television, which located him with the help of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.