Sunday, November 20, 2011


A court in Portugal last week declined to extradite the American fugitive, George Wright, to the United States, where he has been wanted since hijacking a Delta Airlines aircraft to Algeria in 1972. Wright, who was serving 30 years  for an armed robbery of a petrol station, where the proprietor was killed, had escaped from prison in 1970.

Wright, disguised as a priest, commandeered a flight from Detroit to Miami, with some armed associates, and forced the crew to ultimately fly him to Algeria, collecting $1m before departing Miami. He lived in France, and later in Africa, settling in Portugal in 1993, living under an alias.

The Portuguese appellate court ruled that Wright, now a citizen of that country, could not be extradited. It also found that the Statute of Limitations for his crimes had expired, though that reasoning is flawed, in my humble opinion, since the statute is tolled when the offender is outside the jurisdiction.

The United States is clearly disturbed by the court's ruling, since the violent crimes Wright pled guilty to are "within the terms of our bilateral extradition treaty with Portugal," according* to the US State Department, and Wright was a member of the Black Panther Party, a violent extremist group involved in anti-American terrorist acts in the 1960s and 1970s.

Since 9/11, the decision, by any state, to refuse to extradite any fugitive who is known to have been a member of a terrorist organisation, has been condemned by the European Union, of which Portugal is a member. What impact this case will have in the future is unknown.

*Portugal: Decision to Deny US Extradition Request for George Wright ( US State Department)

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