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Israel Refuses to Extradite Alleged War Criminal Wanted in Argentina

Teodoro Gauto lied in his immigration papers but Israel won’t revoke his citizenship, citing his good behavior in his 14 years here

John Brown
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Argentine national Teodoro Aníbal Gauto now living in Israel as Yosef Carmel
Argentine national Teodoro Aníbal Gauto now living in Israel as Yosef Carmel Credit: Argentinian Justice Department website
John Brown

After two years of deliberation, Israel has concluded that it will not void the Israeli citizenship of Argentine national Teodoro Aníbal Gauto, despite accusations that he committed war crimes and suspicions that he lied in his immigration application.

Gauto changed his name to Yosef Carmel and now lives in Haifa. In Argentina he is accused of crimes against humanity during the country’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1976 until 1983. He is accused of serving at La Cacha, a secret detention center used by the military regime.

Israeli journalist (and Argentina native) Shlomo Slutzky had filed a petition to extradite Carmel to Argentina based on an Interpol warrant and last November the state announced that it was considering voiding his Israeli citizenship. On Sunday Israel advised Slutzky that despite the fact that Carmel lied in his application, after examining all the evidence, it decided against the move on the grounds that during Carmel’s 14 years in Israel, he has not committed any crimes.

Slutzky had a personal interest in the extradition: His relative had been kidnapped, taken to La Cacha and murdered there. He motioned for Carmel to be extradited for alleged involvement in kidnapping and torturing left-wing activists. Alternatively, Slutzky urged that at least, Carmel’s Israeli citizenship, which he received based on his wife’s Jewish faith, be revoked. The state has rejected his requests.

La Cacha

Image from Night of the Pencils in Argentina Credit: Argentinian Justice Department website

The military regime in Argentina operated a number of detention camps and La Cacha was considered to be one of the most brutal. It operated near the capital city of Buenos Aires from 1976 to 1978, and prisoners were subject to rape, torture and murder. Documentation shows that no less than 135 people were killed in the camp located on the outskirts of the city of La Plata. Seven of the victims were women whose newborns were given away to soldiers or policemen loyal to the regime.

Around 30,000 people disappeared during Argentina’s dictatorship – meaning they were murdered, but their killing was undocumented. Among them were more than 2,000 Jews.

In 2013, the trial opened in Argentina of 21 soldiers and officers accused of abuses in La Cacha, including murder, kidnapping and illegal detention. Survivors who testified at the trial over the last year told of women being systematically raped and tortured for no reason other than to be sure their screams would be heard in the interrogation rooms. In October 2014, 15 of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to life, and six were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.

Gauto was spared trial because his whereabouts were unknown and Argentine law does not try people in absentia. In 2011, the Argentine authorities put a half-million dollar bounty on his head. He was eventually located in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Bialik, living under the name of Yosef Carmel, after having moved from Argentina to Israel with his family in 2003. Following his exposure, he moved to Haifa.

Gauto denies involvement in crimes against humanity, claiming his work involved no more than classifying left-wing activists by ideology (Marxist, Leninist and so on), and building their case files. He wasn’t motivated by ideology, he claims: He just wanted to live a better life in Argentina of the 1970s.

The Justice Ministry commented that its international division does not provide details on extradition processes, except in the case of open, public processes in court.

Tami Ullman, Gauto’s lawyer, said they thank the state.

Slutzky expressed alarm at Israel's decision, calling it a sensitive issue to the Argentine Jewish community and claiming that for years Israel had ignored Interpol warrants for Gauto's arrest. He noted that the state concluded that Gauto had obtained his Israeli citizenship through fraud, and called outrageous Israel's claim that Gauto deserves consideration because of his long time in the country and absence of criminal behavior. Slutzky added that he is ashamed to inform the human rights organizations in Argentina of Israel's decision.

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