BRASILIA – Thirty years after fleeing Italy, former far-left militant Cesare Battisti could find out Wednesday whether he will be extradited to his native country on murder charges or remain in Brazil, perhaps as a free man.
Brazil's Supreme Court is set to rule on two appeals in the long-running legal case, which has created intense friction with Rome.
Italy wants Brazil to extradite Battisti, convicted in an Italian court in 1993 for the murders of four people in the 1970s when he was a member of the radical Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC) group.
Battisti became an international fugitive after escaping from an Italian jail in 1981, and is seeking release from the Brasilia maximum security prison where he has languished since 2007.
Brazil granted Battisti political refugee status in January 2009, a move that effectively halted extradition proceedings.
But eight months later, the Supreme Court nullified that decision and said it favored extraditing him to Italy after all, at the same time ruling that then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should be the final arbiter.
In late December 2010, Lula, in his last moments in office, enraged Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi by denying the extradition.
The Italian government appealed, and Brazil's nine Supreme Court justices discussed the legality of Lula's decision on Wednesday.
According to the appeal, the court's 2009 ruling nullifying Battisti's refugee status made it unnecessary for the Brazilian president to weigh in on the case.
The head of the court said earlier that Battisti could be extradited to Italy if he is found to be in Brazil illegally.
The Supreme Court must also rule on a request by Battisti's attorneys that their client be immediately released from prison.
It is unclear if the current president, Lula's successor Dilma Rousseff, will still have the ultimate say in the case.
Battisti, now 56, insists that he is innocent.
"He is very anxious to hear the ruling," one of his lawyers, Renata Saraiva, told the daily O Globo. Battisti has been taking anti-depressant medication to handle the stress, said Saraiva, who has visited his client in prison.