February 18, 2015 / 3:13 PM / 3 years ago

French court stays extradition of Argentine in 'dirty war' case

PARIS (Reuters) - France's highest court struck down on Wednesday a decision to pursue extradition to Argentina for an ex-police officer accused of crimes against humanity four decades ago during that country's "dirty war," ruling the case should be reexamined.

Mario Sandoval, who moved to France after the fall of Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship and obtained French citizenship in 1997, is accused of over 600 human rights violations, including torture, by Buenos Aires.

The French-Argentine had appealed a May 2014 appeals court ruling that paved the way for his extradition. Wednesday's ruling by the Cour de Cassation now sends the case back to an appeals court in Versailles to rehear the case.

"This is a bad decision, but we can still salvage it somehow," said lawyer Sophie Thonon-Wesfreid, representing Argentina's government, which has been seeking Sandoval's extradition since 2012.

Sandoval's lawyer, Jerome Rousseau, told Reuters the reversal was on a technicality in the statute of limitations.

The lower court's ruling was based on one case alone - that of Hernan Abriata, an architecture student and political activist who was kidnapped from his home in 1976 - judging it did not have enough information on other cases.

A former federal police officer, Sandoval is suspected of crimes committed at a secret prison where he was a specialist in fighting "subversive elements," according to Argentine prosecutors. Sandoval denies the charges.

As many as 30,000 Argentines were murdered during the military dictatorship's so-called "dirty war" against suspected leftists and political dissidents, according to human rights groups.

In France, once courts rule for an extradition, it must be further approved by governmental decree.

Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Alexandria Sage; editing by Mark John

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