By Regina Garcia Cano and Franklin Briceno
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 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.
“We will continue to collaborate on legal issues with allies such as the United States, and many others with which we have extradition treaties,” said Edgar Alfredo Rebaza, director of Peru’s Office of International Judicial Cooperation and Extraditions of the National Prosecutor’s Office.
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.
Van der Sloot married a Peruvian woman in July 2014 in a ceremony at a maximum-security prison.
Associated Press journalist Regina García Cano reported from Mexico City. Associated Press journalist Kimberly Chandler contributed reporting from Montgomery, Alabama.