US fugitive lived openly in Africa

2011-09-29 15:23

kalahari.com

  • Portugal
    A survival guide to customs and etiquette of Portugal to ease the culture shock experience once... Now R161.00
    buy now
Lisbon - An American fugitive who brazenly hijacked a plane in the 1970s lived openly in the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau during the 1980s under his real name, a former US ambassador said on Thursday.

Retired Guinea-Bissau Ambassador John Blacken told The Associated Press that embassy officials even knew George Wright - captured this week in Portugal - but did not know he was a fugitive.

He said embassy officials would have taken action if they had known Wright had escaped from jail in New Jersey while serving time for murder and was wanted in a 1972 hijacking by the Black Liberation Army, a radical American group, that diverted a US plane to Algeria.

"If we had received such a cable, we would have responded," said Blacken, who said he was stunned upon hearing the news of Wright's detention on Monday in Portugal.

Wright used his own name while in Guinea-Bissau, and Blacken remembered meeting Wright socially in the former Portuguese colony in where Blacken was ambassador from 1986 to 1989.

"All this was a big surprise, my goodness, murder and everything else," Blacken said in a phone interview from Guinea-Bissau. "No one imagined him being a murderer, of course we didn't know him that well. He seemed like an ordinary person and not radical at all."

Blacken could not recall what sort of work Wright did in Guinea-Bissau, a tiny nation on the Atlantic Ocean. He said he remembered Wright's Portuguese wife, Maria do Rosario Valente, better because she had worked as a freelance Portugese-English translator for either the US embassy or for a Guinea-Bissau trade project he launched in 1993, or for other projects.

"He was known as George Wright here, and it's strange that [US officials] never tracked him down here," Blacken said.

$1m ransom

Wright has lived for at least the last two decades in Portugal, and a photocopy of his Portuguese residency card viewed by the AP listed his home country as Guinea-Bissau.

A woman who answered the phone at the Guinea-Bissau embassy in Lisbon said no one was available to comment on whether Wright obtained citizenship from the African nation.

Wright's arrest on Monday has generated intense media interest in Portugal. International camera crews were staked out on Thursday around his pretty house on a cobbled street not far from a stunning Atlantic Ocean beach in Almocageme, 45km west of Lisbon.

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of gas station owner Walter Patterson, a decorated World War II veteran shot during a robbery at his business in Wall, New Jersey.

Eight years into his 15- to 30-year prison term, Wright and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey, on August 19 1970. While on the run, the FBI said Wright joined an underground militant group, the Black Liberation Army, and lived in a communal family with several of the groups' members in Detroit.

In 1972, Wright - dressed as a priest and using an alias - is accused of hijacking a Delta flight from Detroit to Miami along with other Black Liberation Army members and three children. The hijackers identified themselves to passengers as a Black Panther group, police said.

After releasing the plane's 86 other passengers in exchange for a $1m, the hijackers forced the plane to fly to Boston, then onto Algeria, where the hijackers sought asylum.

Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the United States but allowed the hijackers to stay.

Wright and the group left Algeria by boat to Europe in late 1972 or early 1973 and settled in France, where they got jobs and lived together, said Mikhael Ganouna, producer of the 2010 documentary "Nobody Knows my Name" about the hijacking.

Extradition request


But Wright left the group after breaking up with a girlfriend, and Ganouna said no one knew where he went. Wright's associates were subsequently tracked down, arrested and convicted in Paris in 1976. The French government, however, refused to extradite them to the US.

Wright was being held in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, pending extradition hearings. He has asked to be released during the extradition process, and the court handling the case is considering his request, according to US officials.

The superior court in Lisbon handling the US extradition request declined to provide the AP with documents relating to the case, or the name of Wright's lawyer.

Under Portuguese law, only those directly involved in a case have access to the documents. Attendance at court sessions is also restricted to the parties involved, unless the judge grants an exception.

If a court grants an extradition request, Wright could appeal to Portugal's Supreme Court and then to the Constitutional Court, a process likely to last months.

Blacken said he didn't remember whether Wright registered with the US Embassy in Guinea-Bissau in the 1980s. He said he had no knowledge of whether Wright obtained citizenship in Guinea-Bissau, but said it probably wouldn't have been hard for him to do so.

"A person living here for over a period of time who wants to apply for citizenship can normally get it regardless of his background," Blacken said.

The left-leaning authorities in Guinea-Bissau might have even been impressed if Wright had told them about his past, said Jan Van Maanen, a Dutch businessman who serves as honorary consul for the Netherlands and Britain in Guinea-Bissau.

Friendly man


At the time, the nation was a one-party Socialist state that strictly controlled the media, was very sympathetic to revolutionaries and had embassies from many formerly Communist countries.

"In the 70s and the 80s, they used to use passports and therefore nationality as something to decorate people with," Van Maanen said. "In our culture they use a medal or a nice-looking paper as a sign of appreciation. Here in Guinea-Bissau they used passports, saying 'We're so proud of you and here is your passport.'"

Until his arrest, life was quiet and sweet for Wright in the Portuguese hamlet of Almocageme, where neighbours said he lived for at least 20 years with his wife and two children, now in their 20s.

Locals knew him as Jorge Santos, a friendly man from Africa who did odd jobs and spoke fluent Portuguese. Over the years, he worked as a nightclub bouncer, a beach stall salesman and ran a barbecue chicken restaurant, neighbours said.

His wife answered the door Wednesday at their whitewashed house with terra cotta roof tiles in Almocageme but said she had no comment about the arrest.

At their front gate, a black mailbox in the shape of a barn carried the words "US Mail".

- SAPA
Read more on:    us  |  guinea-bissau  |  portugal  |  west africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
5 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Get fit on a budget

It’s time to throw the “I can’t afford to exercise” excuse out the window.

 
 

Where were you when you last felt alive?

Tips for paddling your first Dusi
Climbing the world’s largest stone arch
Awesome extreme sports people
Watch: 2015 Absa Cape Epic route

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may prefer to be in charge because then you can call the shots. You are not as flexible as you like to make out to be and you...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.