Spain to extradite Argentine accused in `death flights’


Madrid : Spain’s national court has ruled in favour of extraditing an Argentine pilot accused of taking part in the “death flights” the South American country’s 1976-1983 military regime used to dispose of more than 1,000 political prisoners who were dumped in the Atlantic Ocean.

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The court Monday stipulated that Julio Alberto Poch should not be sentenced to life in prison if convicted in Argentina.

The documentation submitted by Argentina is sufficient to justify Poch’s extradition for offences that constitute crimes against humanity and which, as such, are not subject to any statute of limitations, the Spanish judges found.

Poch, a naturalised Dutch citizen flying for Amsterdam-based budget carrier Transavia, was arrested in September at the airport in the Spanish city of Valencia during a scheduled stop.

He was detained on an international warrant issued by the Argentine government.

Spanish police confirmed via Interpol that the fugitive frequently flew the Amsterdam-Valencia-Amsterdam route for Transavia.

In an appearance before a Spanish judge shortly after his arrest, Poch denied any involvement in the death flights.

Poch was a lieutenant in the Argentine navy during the military junta’s “dirty war” against leftists, a campaign that led to the deaths of as many as 30,000 people, few of them with any connection whatsoever to armed groups.

He was assigned to the Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, the most notorious of the regime’s clandestine jails and torture chambers.

Retired Argentine Vice Adm. Luis Maria Mendia, who died in 2007 before he could stand trial for his role in the war, admitted to a judge that he had approved the creation of a plan for training navy personnel to combat the “terrorist insurgency”.

That plan led ultimately to the death flights, operations in which political prisoners from the mechanics school were drugged and then hurled from military aircraft into the Atlantic.

Argentina contacted the Dutch government in late 2008 to request Poch’s extradition, citing in support of the request testimony from one of the suspect’s Transavia colleagues that Poch had told him about the death flights and had even defended the practice.

Dutch officials did not act on the Argentine request prior to Poch’s arrest in Spain.