An Argentine former Navy officer accused of crimes against humanity during the nation’s brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship has died in Berlin, just weeks before he was due to be charged over the murder of 23 members of left-wing groups during the era of state terrorism.
Ex-Navy officer Luis Esteban Kyburg was suspected in the abduction, disappearance, torture and murder of 23 young individuals in 1976 and 1977, prosecutors in Berlin said. He had been indicated.
The 75-year-old had obtained German citizenship and left Argentina in 2013 for Berlin before being summoned to testify as a defendant for crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors initially would not name the suspect, but the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which helped victims' relatives file a case against him in Berlin, identified Kyburg.
Kyburg was second-in-command of an elite unit of divers at the Mar del Plata naval base. The Navy unit, called the "Agrupación Buzos Tácticos" (“Tactical Divers Group”), was involved in the feared death squads that executed opponents and critics of the regime.
Four military juntas succeeded each other in Argentina between 1976 and 1983. An estimated 30,000 people disappeared in the era of state terrorism waged by Argentina's military dictatorship against suspected left-wing political critics.
After a lengthy investigation, which involved working with government officials in Argentina, interviewing numerous witnesses, and searching his Berlin apartment, an indictment was filed this month.
During the search of the seaman's house, German investigators found new evidence to support their investigation.
The evidence enabled the prosecution to prepare a 220-page indictment. But it was later discovered that the man had passed away of natural causes on October 11, according to a Berlin prosecutors' office statement.
"The death of the accused abruptly ends the decades-long efforts of the relatives and investigative authorities in Argentina and Germany," said Berlin attorney-general Margarete Koppers. "This is extremely difficult and painful for the victims' families, and they have my deepest sympathy."
The ECCHR's general secretary Wolfgang Kaleck said it was regrettable that victims and their families were not able to see justice served, particularly as "there is a comprehensive and solid indictment from Berlin's public prosecutor and most of Kyburg's accomplices have been convicted by courts in Argentina.”
After being arrested, the victims were taken to a marine base and tortured with the suspect's knowledge, prosecutors said.
Some were taken to other locations and released before being shot in staged confrontations.
But most were killed on so-called "death flights" – where they were placed on planes under the pretext of being transferred, and then thrown out, prosecutors said.
Most of the bodies of those killed have never been found.
Buenos Aires issued an extradition request in 2015, two years after Kyburg moved to Germany, but his second nationality has complicated proceedings. Germany does not extradite its own citizens.