GENEVA (Reuters) - A former Syrian diplomat convicted in absentia of a brutal rape in Switzerland in 2001 has been arrested in Versailles, France, living under a false identity as a refugee, the Geneva prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.
The man, whose name was not revealed, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the 1997 rape of a 60-year-old woman that amounted to torture. The Geneva court cited the "unbearable severity" and perversity of his acts against the woman he had met at a spa.
Previously accredited as a Syrian diplomat to the United Nations in Geneva, he had been living in Versailles "under a new identity, with the status of a political refugee" before his arrest on Tuesday, the prosecutor's statement said.
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Swiss judicial authorities were making an extradition request to France so that he would serve his prison term in Switzerland, it added.
The former diplomat had denied the charges but after Swiss authorities asked the Syrian government to lift his diplomatic immunity, he was called back urgently to Damascus in late 1997, whereupon he lost his immunity in Switzerland, Vincent Derouand of the Geneva prosecutor's office said.
"About a year later he was arrested in Germany and extradited to Switzerland," Derouand told Reuters. "He was held in preventive detention but then released on bail and fled."
The daily Le Temps paper said in December 2001 that the bail had amounted to 100,000 Swiss francs.
The man, who returned to Damascus, failed to appear at his trial, the newspaper said, adding that he was 35 years old when the crimes were committed.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; editing by Ralph Boulton)