In 1999, the Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, initiated proceedings against Ricardo Miguel Cavallo and 98 other Argentine officers. He accused him of participating in 227 kidnappings and acts of torture of 110 people, as well as in the kidnapping of 16 babies who had been removed from their mothers who were in prison. The judge’s investigation also mentioned other cases concerning 248 individuals who had been arrested, detained and finally freed.
On 12 December 2000, Judge Garzón formally requested Cavallo’s extradition from Mexico for genocide, terrorism and torture.
The French judiciary for its part, had also opened up files on the disappearance of 15 French citizens, including those of the Sisters Léonie Duquet and Alice Domont in 1977, when Cavallo presided the ESMA. At the time these files were opened, Cavallo was living under a false identity in Mexico.
Alerted by the disclosure of his real identity in a Mexican paper, Cavallo tried to escape to Argentine, where he could not be tried thanks to the application of the amnesty acts, referred to as «final point» and «due obedience», which were passed to appease the armed forces. However, he was arrested by the Mexican authorities at the Cancun airport (in Yucatan, Mexico) on 24 August 2000.
Subsequently, Cavallo contested the extradition request, which was drawn up on 12 September 2000 by Judge Garzón. After nearly three years of procedures, the Mexican Supreme Court found on June 10 2003 that the extradition treaty of 1978 between Spain and Mexico and its protocol were legitimately ratified by the Mexican authorities and did not violate any of the Mexican constitution’s dispositions. In addition, the Supreme Court stipulated that the ratification of the 1948 Convention against Genocide did not violate either the principle of self-determination or the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of a foreign state, which are inscribed in the Mexican constitution.
The Mexican Supreme Court assented to Cavallo’s extradition related to the charges of terrorism and genocide. However, it refused to include the charge of torture, because under Mexican law, the crimes of torture ascribed to Cavallo were subject to prescription.
Cavallo was put on board a plane belonging to the Spanish Air Force on 28 June 2003 to be extradited and tried in Spain.
On 11 January 2006, Spanish Prosecutor Dolores Delgado formally accused Cavallo of genocide, organised terrorism, crimes against humanity and murder.
The Prosecutor asked for a prison sentence of between 13’000 and 17’000 years, but if convicted, Cavallo would only have to serve the maximum sentence under Spanish law of 30 years.
On 17 July 2007 the Spanish Supreme Court annulled the ruling by the Spanish court in Madrid and held that Cavallo should remain in Spain to be tried, instead of being extradited to Argentina.
On 28 February 2008 however, the Spanish government authorized his extradition to Argentina.
The decision was taken after the Mexican authorities had approved his re-extradition to Argentina.
Cavallo was extradited to Argentina on 31 March 2008. He was handed over to Argentinean officials after the Third Section of the Spanish Criminal Court officially closed the case against him to enable his trial in Argentina.
On 11 December 2009, Ricardo Cavallo, Alfredo Astiz, Jorge Acosta together with other officials was accused by the Argentinian Prosecution of having participated in the commission of crimes against humanity.
On 26 October 2011, Ricardo Cavallo was sentenced to life imprisonment and perpetual disqualification by the Federal Oral Court No. 5 of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was found guilty on 13 accounts of murder aggravated by premeditation, 12 accounts of torture aggravated by the condition of political persecution of the victim, 12 accounts of aggravated unlawful deprivation of liberty and aggravated robbery. These crimes were committed at the Naval Mechanical School (ESMA) during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
The Court dismissed the action for annulment and the plea of extinction of the criminal liability by amnesty and prescription of the crime submitted by his counsel. The trial lasted almost two years. It included testimony from more than 150 witnesses, including 80 survivors.