Spain to extradite 'dirty war' suspect

( AP ) - A Spanish court has decided to halt the prosecution of a key Argentine dirty war suspect charged with genocide and terrorism and instead extradite him to stand trial in his home country, officials said Friday.

Ricardo Miguel Cavallo is a former military officer who was considered a leading figure in the repressive military juntas that ruled Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s. He was extradited from Mexico City, where he was living under an assumed identity, to Madrid in 2003 after Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon charged him with genocide, terrorism and other crimes.

Garzon acted under a Spanish legal doctrine that allows egregious offenses to be prosecuted in Spain even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere - a doctrine known as universal justice.

Cavallo had been expected to stand trial in Spain, but in December 2006 the National Court gave priority in the case to Argentina because the crimes allegedly occurred there and Cavallo was under investigation in Argentina - a consideration that can block a universal justice case.

Argentina has repealed laws that once granted immunity to military personnel accused of abuses during the junta era.

But in yet another twist, the Spanish Supreme Court in July upheld an appeal by prosecutors who wanted the trial to take place in Madrid. The Supreme Court ruled Spain's National Court had jurisdiction over the case and could proceed with the trial.

But the National Court has now decided the charges against Cavallo in Argentina are similar to those in Spain, so it will close the case and allow his extradition, a court spokeswoman told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in keeping with court rules.

Spain's government agreed to Cavallo's extradition in a Cabinet meeting Friday and Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Cavallo will be extradited to Argentina to face trial there.

Before his 2003 arrest, Cavallohad been living in Mexico under an assumed name and running a motor vehicle registry. He was arrested after a newspaper ran a front-page picture of him and five former political prisoners identified him as their torturer.

Cavallo was a navy commander in Buenos Aires and worked in the Navy Mechanical School - known by its Spanish initials ESMA - which became a notorious detention center in Buenos Aires where thousands of prisoners were tortured or executed.

Argentina in the 1970s was marked by leftist guerrilla violence and counterattacks by military forces and death squads as a prelude to a 1976 military coup. Official records show nearly 13,000 people died or disappeared under the last dictatorship, though human groups put the toll closer to 30,000.

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