Argentina "death flights" conviction could mean life in prison for Dutch pilot

Lady Justice (Picture: Twitter/@danvelton). (Lady Justice (Picture: Twitter/@danvelton))

The Argentinian Public Prosecutor demanded a life-long prison sentence against former Transavia pilot Julio Poch for his involvement in the so-called "death flights" during the Argentinian dictatorship between 1975 and 1983. Opponents of the dictatorship were tortured and then thrown from aircraft into the ocean on these death flights.

According to Poch's lawyers, Argentine Gerardo Ibanez and Dutch Geert-Jan Knoops, the 63 year old Dutch-Argentine man and his co-defendants were informed of the sentences demanded against them last week, NRC reports.

Knoops is outraged by the claim. "It is inconceivable that a life sentenced was demanded against Poch without there being any evidence", the Dutch lawyer said to the news agency. "For Poch, who I spoke to yesterday, this is a huge blow. While this demand was expected, it is nonetheless mentally very tough for Poch to be confronted with this. Yet we still have confidence in the only proper outcome of this case: acquittal."

Poch was arrested at the airport in Valencia, Spain on September 2009. He was on his last flight for Transavia before his retirement. His arrest was based on statements by his Dutch colleagues, who claimed that Poch told them that he played a role in the death flights during a dinner on Bali in 2003. The Dutch Public Prosecutor informed the Argentinian authorities about this in 2008 and the Argentinian authorities ordered his arrest. In October 2013 the Argentinian authorities extended Poch's custody. And in December of that year, he filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government demanding that they pay his legal expenses.

In a letter to his Dutch friend, Poch calls it "completely insane" that he was given the death sentence after an "innocent after-dinner conversation with colleagues", according to NRC. He also wrote that life sentences were demanded against 52 of the people suspected of crimes against humanity in the mass trial. Four suspects heard demands of 25, 18 and 10 years.

The court is expected to rule on Poch's case in the summer of 2016