Colombia warlord asks US court to force deportation to Italy

National/World
Salvatore Mancuso

FILE – In this May 13, 2008 file photo, Colombian paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso is escorted by U.S. DEA agents upon his arrival to Opa-locka, Florida. A legal battle is quietly brewing in the U.S. in 2020 over Colombia’s request that this former paramilitary warlord be sent home after completing his drug sentence in the U.S. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

MIAMI (AP) — A lawyer for a former Colombian paramilitary leader is asking a U.S. federal court to force Attorney General William Barr to immediately deport the former warlord to Italy after he completed a long drug sentence.

The emergency petition was filed Monday in Washington, DC federal court on behalf of Salvatore Mancuso, the former top commander of the United Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC. It comes as Colombia is mounting a last-minute campaign to block Mancuso’s removal to Italy after it bungled an extradition requestthat had to be withdrawn last month.

Mancuso’s lawyer argues that 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.

Immigration attorney Hector Mora 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 Mancuso back to Colombia. If returned home, he argues 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 completed a 12-year sentence in the U.S. 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.

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.

The U.S. Justice Department and ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Follow Goodman on Twitter; @APJoshGoodman

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