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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

War Crime Retrial Faces Difficult Legal Maze

ROME -- Italy turned to a single article in its 2,000-page law book to re-arrest former SS captain Erich Priebke and contain outrage at home and abroad over a military court's decision to free him after a war crimes trial.


The move, permitting the temporary detention of the 83-year-old German pending a formal extradition request from Germany, calmed an explosive atmosphere.


But it left lawyers, politicians and justice ministry officials scrambling to determine the next turn in a legal maze.


Not only is the article, 716 of the penal procedural code, open to broad interpretation over how long Priebke can be detained, but extradition agreements between Italy and Germany and Argentina also came into play.


Germany said it planned to seek Priebke's extradition for another war crimes trial, but Italian Justice Minister Giovanni Maria Flick said Priebke could not actually be extradited while an appeal of his Italian case was open.


A German justice ministry spokesman said the German ambassador to Italy was meeting Italian justice ministry officials in Rome.


Meanwhile, Italy must get permission from Argentina to send Priebke to a third country. Priebke was extradited from his post-war adopted home in Argentina to Rome last November.


Defense lawyer Velio di Rezze, shortly after Priebke was re-arrested at 2 a.m. on Friday, said the move was unjust and vowed to get it overturned by Italy's Court of Appeals.


The lawyer, reached subsequently by telephone at his office, said he would probably go to the appeals court on Saturday after obtaining a clearer picture of the German extradition request.


He said he would visit his client later in the day at Rome's Regina Coeli, the jail from where some of the 335 men and boys were rounded up in 1944 and trucked to the Ardeatine Caves for a mass killing in which Priebke took part.


Military prosecutor Antonino Intelisano also said Priebke's fate depended on what was in the German extradition request.


"Priebke is being held in precautionary detention following a request for extradition from Germany. We are waiting for that request to be formalized," Intelisano said. "We have to see what it contains, whether it is for the same crimes or for other reasons."


He said "additional charges" could affect the outcome of the extradition request, adding that he still planned to appeal against Thursday's court verdict.


Justice Minister Flick, meeting reporters after a government cabinet meeting to assess the Priebke situation, tried to clear up confusion over how long the German could be held under the temporary order.


He said the court of appeal had 96 hours to examine and uphold or reject the detention. The ministry then has 10 days in which to ask the court to continue the holding order. Asked if he thought Priebke would ultimately be extradited to Germany, Flick replied: "I'm not making any predictions."


But Shimon Samuels, international affairs director of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he believed political will would ease his extradition.


"I think that the political sector has made well known that it would be dishonourable if there would be any type of blockage from the judicial sector," Samuels said.