BUENOS AIRES (AP) — An American who fled Colorado and started a new life in Argentina is being politically persecuted and is appealing for asylum in hopes of avoiding extradition to the U.S. to face murder charges, his lawyer said Monday.
The Argentine Supreme Court ruled last month that Kurt Sonnenfeld, who moved to Argentina in 2003 after being charged with killing his wife, could be extradited.
Sonnenfeld claims his wife killed herself and that prosecutors framed him for her death to silence him, allegations that Denver's district attorney's office has denied. Sonnenfeld had been a cameraman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and claimed to possess video footage indicating the government knew the attacks would happen.
"This U.S. administration is trying to accuse him" of killing his wife, said lawyer Adrian Albor. "They want to discredit him."
Albor said Sonnenfeld, who is not in custody, had pending petitions for both political asylum and to be recognized as a refugee. Asylum would have to be granted by President Cristina Fernandez, said Albor, and Sonnenfeld's refugee petition was denied in 2008 but has been appealed and is pending.
Albor said the Supreme Court had previously ruled to suspend any extradition proceedings until Sonnenfeld's refugee status petition was sorted out, and "now mysteriously, (the court) says the executive branch can extradite him?"
In its Dec. 11 ruling, the Supreme Court said that the executive branch would have final say in the matter.
It's unclear when the extradition could take place, or if Fernandez would consider granting Sonnenfeld asylum. Calls on Monday to Argentina's Foreign Ministry, which oversees extraditions, and to the president's office, were not immediately returned.
A spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney's on Monday referred comment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which says it doesn't comment on extraditions until a defendant is in the United States.
The extradition of Sonnenfeld, who married an Argentine and has twin girls, would end a longstanding dispute between the U.S. Justice Department and Argentine courts that centered in part on differences over the death penalty. According to the court ruling, Argentina had assurances from U.S. prosecutors that they would not seek the death penalty.
Colorado is one of several U.S. states with capital punishment, which Argentina does not have.
AP reporter Sadie Gurman in Denver contributed to this report.