France to extradite Italian exiles

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Roberto Castelli, Italian Justice Minister met his French counterpart Dominique Perben in Paris on 11 September 2002 to discuss the position of Italian refugees sought by Italian authorities for crimes dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. The Italians have been living in France without risking extradition due to former president Mitterand´s decision in 1985 that those who had turned their back on "that damned machine of terrorism" would not be extradited, except for exceptionally serious cases, that would be examined by French judicial authorities on a case by case basis. The French government of the time, as well as other external observers, including Amnesty International, said that defendants were denied a fair trial under Italian emergency legislation, in force in Italy since 1976.

The French government extradited Unita Comuniste Combattenti (a Brigate Rosse off-shoot) suspect Paolo Persichetti to Italy on 25 August 2002, indicating that the policy that has been operating since 1985 may be reviewed. Persichetti fled to France after he was sentenced to 22 years in prison by the appeal court for "moral participation" in the murder of general Licio Giorgeri in 1987. He had been found innocent in the first trial. The 40-year-old rebuilt his life as a teacher in the Paris VIII university in Saint Denis, and spent a year in prison in Paris in 1994-1995 while the French authorities studied an extradition request that was turned down.

Following his extradition he is in Rebibbia prison in Rome, with 17 years left to serve. In a letter to Il manifesto newspaper on 13 September, Persichetti claims that his extradition was a result of "base ingredients" such as "a new justice that is only concerned with knocking down barriers, controlling territory, annihilating protections and guarantees", a post 11 September environment where "scapegoats carry out a reassuring function" and an Italian situation in which, following events in Naples and Genoa, police and anti-terrorist units have been discredited.

French-Italian cooperation in the fight against terrorism will result in the establishment of a working group that will meet at regular intervals. Perben agreed that, on request from Italy, the working group would analyse cases involving crimes committed after 1982 in relation to possible extradition. However, cases involving persons who committed the crimes in question before 1982 would be exempted, unless they involved "exceptionally serious crimes", and the cases under scrutiny would be examined, according to Perben, "in the light of the European Convention of Human Rights and of the conditions under which the trials in Italy took place, the crucial factor for a French decision." He acknowledged the policy shift, claiming that "We want to show our solidarity with European countries in the fight against terrorism".

Any changes in the policy would only apply to cases involving crimes committed between 1982 and 1993. In fact, cases following 1993 will be retroactively covered by the European arrest warrant on 1 January 2004. The arrest warrant, that will come into force in five EU countries (France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg and Spain) that agreed early implementation on 1 January 2003, and establishes automatic extradition, abolishing any assessment by extraditing authorities of judicial decisions by courts in EU member states requesting extradition beyond the formal procedural scrutiny of extradition requests. The European arrest warrant will apply to a growing list of crimes (they are currently 32).

An appeal by Italians addressed to French public opinion opposed to extraditions stresses that events are being de-contextualised and on the fact that "emergency legislative and judicial measures" introduced "in an attempt to put out a protest movement" numbering hundreds of thousands of adherents resulted in "summary judgments, extensive use of informants, coercive means to extract confessions, sentences exceeding any rules<

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