Argentina to extradite 'death flights' Dutch pilot

24th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Julio Alberto Poch is wanted in Argentina for helping dispose political opponents by drugging them, flowing out over the ocean in military planes and throwing them into the sea.

Buenos Aires – Argentina is to ask Spain to extradite Julio Alberto Poch, a pilot suspected of orchestrating so-called "death flights" during Argentina's military dictatorship, a judicial source told AFP Wednesday.
"Judge Sergio Torres will call on Spain to extradite Poch in connection with the investigation into the death flights of the ESMA," the source said, referring to the Naval Mechanics School – an infamous torture site during the 1976-83 regime.

The "death flights" were a way for the dictatorship to dispose of political opponents, who were drugged, flown out over the ocean in military planes, and then thrown into the sea.

Poch, who has dual citizenship in Argentina and the Netherlands, is currently a pilot with Dutch airline Transavia, a low-cost affiliate of KLM and Air France. During the 1976-83 regime, he was  a navy pilot stationed at the Naval Mechanics School.

He was arrested Tuesday in Valencia airport in Spain, where he was awaiting a flight back to the Netherlands.

He is wanted in Argentina in connection with four criminal investigations into acts committed during the country's military dictatorship, involving the death of more than 1,000 people, according to a statement from the Spanish ministry of the interior.

Torres called for the Netherlands to extradite Poch at the end of 2008, after he received testimony from witnesses implicating him in the "death flights".

The Argentine judge says he has proof that Poch was involved in the abuses at the ESMA, which are believed to involve at least 5,000 of the 30,000 people who disappeared during the dictatorship.

Torres received testimony from a Transavia pilot who said Poch had described to him how the regime's political opponents were thrown into the sea.

"He told me that on board his planes, people were thrown into the sea while still alive with the goal of killing them, and he justified the practice by saying that the people were terrorists," the pilot told the criminal investigation.

Poch also told his colleague that the victims "were drugged" before being thrown into the sea, according to the investigation.

Another source's testimony also implicates Poch for having "flown regular flights during which groups of people were thrown from his plane into the sea."

Some 30,000 people disappeared during the military dictatorship in Argentina, according to human rights organisations.

In 1995, the former Argentine lieutenant commander Adolfo Scilingo admitted he had participated in the "death flights".

He is serving a prison sentence of 1,084 years in Spain for crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship.

AFP / Expatica

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