Buenos Aires Times

argentina HUMAN RIGHTS

France approves extradition of Argentine accused of dictatorship-era crimes

French government OKs extradition of former police officer Mario Sandoval to Argentina. Accused faces charges of crimes against humanity including torture and kidnapping.

Wednesday 24 October, 2018
Mario Sandoval, alias 'Churrasco,' has been accused by local prosecutors of committing more than 600 human rights violations including torture and kidnapping.
Mario Sandoval, alias 'Churrasco,' has been accused by local prosecutors of committing more than 600 human rights violations including torture and kidnapping. Foto:FILE

Ending what it called "a long legal battle," the French government on Wednesday authorised the extradition of former police officer Mario Sandoval to Argentina, where he will be prosecuted for alleged crimes against humanity committed under the last military dictatorship (1976-1983).

Sandoval, alias 'Churrasco,' has been accused by local prosecutors of committing more than 600 human rights violations including torture and kidnapping, during his time serving as a police office in the Department of Political Affairs of the PFA between 1976 and 1979, and later as part of an integrated taskforce that worked in the ex-ESMA Navy Mechanics School.

"After a long legal battle, the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, has signed the decree authorising the extradition of Mario Sandoval," said Sophie Thonon-Wesfreid, a lawyer representing Argentina, in a statement, describing the decision as "a victory for human rights."

The decree was signed back in August by Philippe and France's Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, the lawyers in charge of the case, told the AFP news agency. Sandoval, 65, was notified of the decision on September 21, the same sources added.

Sandoval moved to France after the end of the dictatorship and later obtained French citizenship in 1997. Argentina has been fighting for Sandoval's extradition since 2012.

However, the legal fight isn't over. The defendant has appealed the decision to France's highest administrative court, lawyer Jérôme Rousseau said, in a bid to prevent his extradition.

While that move would not necessarily suspend the extradition process, the state "does not [normally\ proceed to extradition before the council's examination," Rousseau added.

Long battle

Sandoval moved to France after the end of the dictatorship, later obtaining French citizenship in 1997. However, that latter fact would not prevent his extradition, as he was not French at the time of the alleged crimes were committed.

To request his extradition, Argentina needed to base its claim on a case in which Sandoval is implicated, choosing the 1976 kidnapping and disappearance Hernán Abriata, a 25-year-old student who was detained at what was then known as the ESMA School of Navy Mechanics, a clandestine detention centre on Avenida Libertador in the capital.

"After 45 years of struggle, the family of Hernán Abriata ... hopes that Mario Sandoval will finally answer to the crimes against humanity that the Judiciary of his country reproaches him for," said Thonon-Wesfreid, citing the victim's 92-year-old mother, Beatriz.

Sandoval has denounced the attempts to make him stand trial in Argentina, calling himself a victim of "political persecution" and a "man hunt." 

The request for extradition, first presented by the Argentine state in 2012, has already been approved by the Court of Appeals of Paris and Versailles, and the French Court of Cassation.

The Council of State, to which Sandoval has appealed in his latest attempt to quash the manoeuvre, is the last chance in France the accused has to try and annul the decision. If the court confirms his extradition, however, he could still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights .

- TIMES/AFP

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