May 26, 2024

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18 years after Natalee Holloway disappearance, Peru to extradite key suspect to US

4 min read

FILE - Joran van der Sloot sits in the courtroom before his sentencing at San Pedro prison in Lima, Peru, Jan. 13, 2012. The government of Peru on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, issued an executive order allowing the temporary extradition to the United States of the prime suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American Natalee Holloway in the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro, File)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s government will allow the extradition to the United States of the prime suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American student Natalee Holloway on the Dutch Caribbean Island of Aruba, bringing her family hope there will be justice in the case.

Dutch citizen Joran van der Sloot will be sent to the U.S., Peru announced Wednesday, to face trial on extortion and wire fraud charges, stemming from an accusation that he tried to extort the Holloway family after their daughter’s disappearance.

Holloway, who lived in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, was 18 when she was last seen during a trip with classmates to Aruba. She vanished after a night with friends at a nightclub, leaving a mystery that sparked years of news coverage and countless true-crime podcasts. She was last seen leaving a bar with van der Sloot, then 18 years old.

Van der Sloot was identified as a suspect and detained, along with two Surinamese brothers, weeks later. Holloway’s body was never found, and no charges were filed in the case. A judge later declared Holloway dead.

Years later, van der Sloot was arrested in Peru for the 2010 murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, who was killed five years to the day after Holloway’s disappearance. Prosecutors accused van der Sloot of killing Flores, a business student from a prominent family, to rob her after learning she had won money at the casino where the two met. They said he killed her with “ferocity” and “cruelty,” beating then strangling her in his hotel room. He pleaded guilty in 2012, and is serving 28 years in prison for the murder.

But his extradition to the U.S. stems from an alleged attempt to profit from his connection to the Holloway case. A grand jury in Alabama in 2010 indicted van der Sloot on wire fraud and extortion charges, accusing him of trying to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Holloways.

Prosecutors in the U.S. allege van der Sloot accepted $25,000 in cash from Holloway’s family in exchange for a promise to lead them to her body in early 2010, just before he went to Peru.

An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit that van der Sloot reached out to Holloway’s mother and wanted to be paid $25,000 to disclose the location and then another $225,000 when the remains were recovered. During a recorded sting operation, van der Sloot pointed to a house where he said Holloway was buried but in later emails admitted to lying about the location, the agent said.

Peru’s Minister of Justice Daniel Maurate said in a statement Wednesday the government decided to “accept the request” from U.S. authorities “for the temporary transfer” of van der Sloot to be prosecuted on extortion and fraud charges. In Peru, all extraditions must be approved by the president.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday declined to comment on the extradition. A resolution published in the South American country’s federal register states that U.S. diplomats on Jan. 10 presented the temporary extradition request to Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Relations.

The time that van der Sloot ends up spending in the U.S. “will be extended until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings,” including the appeal process should there be one, according to the published resolution. The resolution also states that U.S. authorities have agreed to return the suspect to the custody of Peru afterward.

“We will continue to collaborate on legal issues with allies such as the United States, and many others with which we have extradition treaties,” Edgar Alfredo Rebaza, director of Peru’s Office of International Judicial Cooperation and Extraditions of the National Prosecutor’s Office, said in a statement Wednesday.

A 2001 treaty between Peru and the U.S. allows a suspect to be temporarily extradited to face trial in the other country. It requires that the prisoner “be returned” after judicial proceedings are concluded “against that person, in accordance with conditions to be determined by” both countries.

In a statement, the young woman’s mother, Beth Holloway, said she was blessed to have Natalee in her life for 18 years.

“She would be 36 years old now. It has been a very long and painful journey, but the persistence of many is going to pay off. Together, we are finally getting justice for Natalee,” Beth Holloway said.

Attorney Maximo Altez, who represents van der Sloot, told the AP he will fight the decision once he is properly notified by the Peruvian government.

“I am going to challenge that resolution,” Altez said. “I am going to oppose it since he has the right to a defense.”

Van der Sloot could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday. More than a decade ago, he told a Peruvian judge that he would fight efforts to be extradited to the U.S.

In 2012, prison authorities said that van der Sloot was transferred from a Lima prison to a high-security Piedras Gordas lockup in response to reports that he had enjoyed privileges such as television, internet access and a cell phone. Piedras Gordas holds local crime bosses and terrorism convicts, including Shining Path guerrillas.

Van der Sloot married a Peruvian woman in July 2014 in a ceremony at a maximum-security prison. Later that year, authorities sent van der Sloot to a prison high in the Andes, saying he had threatened to kill the warden of the lockup near Lima.

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