By the Blouin News World staff

Brazil, Italy to butt heads over Pizzolato?

by in Americas, Europe.

Credit: Folho de Sao Paulo.

Credit: Folho de Sao Paulo.

The phrase “the shoe is now on the other foot”, clichéd though it is, accurately summarizes the current state of Brazilian-Italian relations. On Monday, the Brazilian government looked into its options in the case of Henrique Pizzolato, a banker with dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship, who fled to Italy in order to avoid a prison sentence in the South American nation. Amazingly the Brazilian media has reported that Pizzolato may have fled to Italy over 45 days ago (according to statements by the banker’s relatives), but Brazilian authorities only realized that he had absconded when the police went to his home to arrest him over the weekend.

The case that resulted Pizzolato’s sentencing is known as the “mensalão” (big monthly allowance) scandal and has been a black eye for the Brazilian left: it has embroiled senior members of the Lula da Silva administration. As the BBC explains, the case involved the usage of public funds to pay coalition parties for political support between 2003 and 2005 — the first two years of the lengthy Lula presidency. Individuals convicted so far include Delubio Soares, the former treasurer of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Lula’s party), and Jose Dirceu, who was Lula’s chief-of-staff during those two years.

Pizzolato was sentenced to a prison term of 12 years and seven months on money laundering, corruption and embezzlement charges after he authorized a US$ 31.8 million transfer from Banco do Brasil as part of the mensalão scheme, according to Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo. The convicted banker justified his escape in a letter written before he fled, arguing that he was leaving Brazil so he could receive a “fair and media-free trial.” News agency Jornal Nacional reports that the Brazilian Federal Police consider Pizzolato a fugitive and that his name has been added to INTERPOL’s wanted list. But it is highly unlikely that the disgraced banker will be extradited: the Italian government does not extradite people with Italian citizenship.

As for that shoe-transfer mentioned above: Brazil will find itself in a hard-to-defend position if it follows up on its extradition demands. Why? Cesare Battisti. Battisti was a member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, an Italian terrorist movement which was particularly active between the 1960s and 1980s; he was sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court for four homicides, but he managed to flee the country and make it to Brazil in 2007 and was arrested by the police in Rio de Janeiro on March 18 of that year for illegally entering the country and spent four years behind bars. On December 31st, 2010, the last day of Lula’s presidency, the PT member decided to grant Battisti asylum instead of deporting him back to Italy.  Battisti has been living a free man in Brazil ever since. The Italian has not denied being a member of the PAC, but he maintains his innocence regarding the four assassinations. He has argued that “in my case, there was a sort of artificial operation that created, from one day to another, the monster Cesare Battisti.”

The Italian government has had little leverage on this issue. Trade and diplomatic relations between the two nations are fairly strong, as well as security relations. In July 2012, then-Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola met with his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim. Di Paola expressed his country’s interest in embarking on joint ventures with the Brazilian navy to construct warships in the South American nation. And Italy is not a commercial partner with Brazil comparable to the U.S. or China, so imposing economic sanctions would probably hurt the struggling Italian economy more than the relatively robust Brazilian one. But the Pizzolato affair creates a new paradigm: now each country has a fugitive that the other country desires. The contingencies here are many and complex, and they make it unlikely that we will see a simple one-for-one swap, Battisti for Pizzolato. At the time of this writing, there have been no media reports about a meeting between Italy’s Ambassador to Brazil, Raffaele Trombetta, with either Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff or Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Patriota, to discuss the Pizzolato affair. Likewise, the Brazilian ambassador to Italy has not been recalled (in 2011 Italy recalled its ambassador to the South American state when the extradition talks for Battisti failed). Pizzolato will not be able to leave Italy: INTERPOL’s website has published a warrant for his arrest among its 190 member countries. But given Italy’s unsuccessful extradition attempt against Battisti, look for Brasilia’s future attempts to discuss Pizzolato’s fate to go nowhere, fast.