French court backs extradition of ex-policeman to Argentina over 'dirty war'

PARIS Wed May 28, 2014 1:32pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - A Paris appeals court ruled on Wednesday in favor of extraditing a French-Argentine dual citizen wanted by Argentina for crimes against humanity during its 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

The ruling opens the way for the extradition of Mario Alfredo Sandoval, although he still has five days to lodge an appeal to a higher court.

The former federal police officer stands accused of over 600 human rights violations in Argentina at a secret prison where he was a specialist in fighting "subversive elements", according to Argentine prosecutors.

Sandoval, who denies the charges, fled Argentina after the junta's collapse and ended up in France, where he became a citizen in 1997 and works as a consultant.

The French court's ruling covered only the case of one architecture student who disappeared in 1976 because it considered it did not have enough information on other cases.

Rights groups say up to 30,000 people were "disappeared" - a euphemism for kidnapped and murdered - during the dictatorship, which began in March 1976 with a military coup against President Maria Estela Martinez de Peron, the widow of former leader Juan Domingo Peron.

The Argentine government's lawyer, Sophie Thonon-Westfreid, welcomed the court's ruling but expressed regret that the French parliament had not yet ratified an extradition treaty that would have allowed the case to move more quickly.

She also urged French authorities to do everything in their power to ensure Sandoval did not attempt to go into hiding before his possible extradition.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; writing by Leigh Thomas; editing by Andrew Roche)

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