18 years after Natalee Holloway's disappearance, Peru to extradite key suspect to US
LIMA, Peru (AP) — The chief suspect in the unsolved 2005 disappearance of American student Natalee Holloway is poised to face charges linked to the young woman’s vanishing for the first time after the government of Peru authorized his extradition to the United States.
Neither U.S. nor Peruvian authorities on Thursday would say when they might transfer custody of Dutch citizen Joran van der Sloot. A day earlier the Peruvian Embassy in Washington announced the decision to extradite him to face trial on extortion and wire fraud charges, each of which carries lengthy sentences.
Van der Sloot is in a maximum-security prison in the Andes serving a 28-year sentence for the murder of a Peruvian woman.
Holloway, who lived in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, was 18 when she was last seen during a trip with classmates to the Caribbean island of 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, who was a student at an international school on the island.
Van der Sloot was identified as a suspect and detained weeks later, along with two Surinamese brothers. Holloway’s body was never found, and no charges were filed in the case. A judge later declared Holloway dead.
The federal charges filed in Alabama against van der Sloot stem from an accusation that he tried to extort the Holloway family in 2010, promising to lead them to her body in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A grand jury indicted him that year on one count each of wire fraud and extortion, each of which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Also in 2010, van der Sloot was arrested in Peru for the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores, who was killed five years to the day after Holloway’s disappearance.
Peruvian 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.
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.
The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment Thursday on the extradition from Peru. 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 says U.S. authorities agreed to return the suspect to the custody of Peru afterward.
The extradition request indicated “that an additional delay in the prosecution of the case that is being pursued in the United States of America could significantly reduce the possibility of conviction, that the ages and health conditions of the key witnesses in the case would make the prosecution would be extremely difficult if it is not carried out soon,” according to a March order from Peru’s top court.
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.
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. Van der Sloot requested that an agreement be drafted and signed by the mother and him.
A New York attorney representing Beth Holloway traveled to Aruba with the agreement and gave van der Sloot $10,000 in cash during a recorded meeting, according to court records. The indictment says both men then went to a site where the student's remains were purportedly buried, and Beth Holloway made a wire transfer for $15,000 to van der Sloot's bank account in the Netherlands.
In the affidavit, the FBI agent wrote that van der Sloot in later emails to the attorney admitted to lying about the location.
Attorney Maximo Altez, who represents van der Sloot, told The Associated Press that he would fight the decision on extradition once he received proper notification from 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. More than a decade ago, he told a Peruvian judge that he would fight efforts to be extradited to the U.S.
The governor of Alabama praised the extradition decision and commended the persistance of Beth Holloway.
“Joran van der Sloot’s extradition to Birmingham, Alabama — Natalee’s home for her 18 years — is significant," Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement. "Criminals like him are deceptive and vicious. Alabama moms like Beth Holloway are stronger.”
Van der Sloot married a Peruvian woman in July 2014 in a ceremony at a maximum security prison. He has been transferred from prisons in response to reports that he enjoyed privileges such as television, internet access and a cellphone, and accusations that he had threatened to kill a warden.
The announcement from the Peruvian government Wednesday marks the second high-profile extradition decision between the two countries in less than three weeks. In late April, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo arrived in Lima after being extradited from the U.S. to face charges he allegedly received millions of dollars in bribes in a giant corruption scandal.
Associated Press writer Regina García Cano reported from Mexico City. AP journalist Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this report.