The attorney for a former Colombian paramilitary leader has filed an emergency petition with a Washington, DC federal court demanding his client be deported immediately to Italy instead of Colombia where he is linked to 1,500 killings or abductions.
Immigration attorney Hector Mora filed the proceeding Monday on behalf of Salvatore Mancuso, the former top commander of the United Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC. The legal motion comes as Colombia is mounting a last-minute campaign to block Mancuso’s removal to Italy after it bungled an extradition request that had to be withdrawn last month.
Colombian courts have found Mancuso to be responsible for 1,500 acts of murder and kidnapping.
Mora argued that Attorney General William Barr, Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, and four other senior officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have unlawfully kept Mancuso in federal custody beyond the maximum 90 days allowed for the removal of aliens.
Included in the petition is a copy of a final administrative removal order dated April 15 that compels DHS and ICE to remove Mancuso to Italy, where he also has citizenship.
Salvatore Mancuso (photographed December 9, 2004) concluded 12-year drug sentence in the United States in March but is still in custody well past the 90-day limit allowed by law. The 55-year-old was a top ranking leader with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary group. He lawyer filed a motion in a Washington, DC court Monday to have him deported to Italy as soon as possible instead of Colombia, where he could be killed
File image from May 13, 2008 shows Salvatore Mancuso (center) escorted by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents in Opa-locka, Florida, after he extradition from Colombia.
Mancuso’s lawyer attributes the delay to strong pressure from Colombia’s conservative government, which he claims is working closely with the U.S. State Department to bring the former warlord back to Colombia after he completed a 12-year drug trafficking sentence.
If returned home, Mora argued his client is likely to be jailed, or even killed, despite having fulfilled his obligations under a 2003 peace deal he negotiated, which caps prison terms at eight years for militia leaders who confess their crimes.
‘He and his family are terrified with his possible return to Colombia,’ Mora wrote to ICE officials on March 27, the same day Mancuso was completed his sentence in the United States for cocaine trafficking.
Mancuso, 55, was the most remorseful of the former right-wing militia leaders after demobilizing and his eagerness to discuss the paramilitaries’ war crimes has already shaken Colombia’s politics.
His boast in 2005 that a third of Colombia’s congress was elected with paramilitary support triggered a wave of judicial investigations that ended with dozens of elected officials behind bars. Mora said others still in power have not hidden their desire to find a Colombian court to order Mancuso’s arrest in a ‘desperate effort to silence him.’
Mancuso ‘through his extensive declarations made enemies at the highest levels of power, including high ranking officers of the ruling party in Colombia and inner circle of the current administration,’ Mora wrote.
Colombian President Iván Duque this month called for Mancuso’s return and immediate imprisonment for ‘crimes against humanity.’ Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor’s office said it was working on a new extradition request after the AP revealed how the first attempt had to be withdrawn when authorities realized a judge had already cancelled the arrest order.
While Colombian courts have judged Mancuso responsible for more than 1,500 acts of murder or forced disappearance, many of the crimes are not recognized as offenses under U.S. law because they stem from his position atop AUC´s chain of command – not specific orders he gave. In 2001, the U.S. designated the AUC a foreign terror organization.
In 2008, then President Alvaro Uribe stealthily extradited Mancuso and 13 other warlords to face drug charges in the U.S. His critics say the shock move, an apparent peace accord violation, was an attempt to quiet the men just as they began to reveal secrets about their crimes and politician collaborators – including Uribe, who as a governor in the 1990s backed the creation of legal, armed groups to protect ranchers´ land from leftist guerrilla fighters.
Salvatore Mancuso (photographed December 9, 2004) was the most remorseful of the former right-wing militia leaders after demobilizing and his eagerness to discuss the paramilitaries’ war crimes has already shaken Colombia’s politics
Salvatore Mancuso pictured in December 10, 2004 as 1,425 members of the Colombian United Self Defense demobilized as part of the country’s peace agreement
Monday’s emergency filing – known as a writ of mandamus – contains new insight into how Mora and Joaquin Perez, Mancuso’s criminal defense lawyer in Miami, managed to outmaneuver Colombian officials. The fight over Mancuso’s future has garnered the attention of Mancuso’s many victims as well as Human Rights Watch, which accused Colombian officials of being ‘notably negligent’ in their pursuit of Mancuso’s extradition.
According to correspondence submitted with the petition, Mancuso applied for asylum in the U.S. – where his ex-wife and youngest child were granted protection – as well as indicated that he would not oppose removal to Italy but would fight any orders sending him to Colombia.
Mora, in correspondence with U.S. officials in March, said his client had already purchased a one-way ticket to Rome and had an address in Italy where he will stay in quarantine during the 14 days after arrival to Italy. To expedite the removal, the Mancuso family also offered to purchase tickets for two ICE officials that were required to escort the ex-felon.
Mora included as part of his petition Mancuso’s Italian passport, which expired in 2001; travel documents were furnished by the Italian consulate in Miami on Aug. 14, according to correspondence included in the petition.
Last year, judge Marina Zamora Buitrago in the capital, Bogota, granted Mancuso probation in Colombia.
Zamora Buitrago said Mancuso’s years in U.S. prison satisfied the requirements of the Justice and Peace law, which allows alternative sentences of up to eight years to be served abroad. She cancelled the arrest orders on July 15; Colombia withdrew its extradition request five days later.
The U.S. Justice Department and ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Salvatore Mancuso (pictured) was the top commander of a since-disbanded group of right-wing militia, United Defense Forces of Colombia, and is linked to 1,500 killings or abductions by a Colombian court. The 55-year-old hopes the United States will not extradite him to Colombia, where he fears he could be killed, and allow him to resettle in Italy, his father’s native home
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