Three former colleagues of a Dutch-Argentian pilot say their lives have been a mess since they made incriminating statements linking Julio Alberto Poch to death flights in the 1970s and 1980s. But, they say, they don't regret a thing.
Despite being called traitors and suffering from sleeplessness, the three pilots from Dutch company Transavia told the dailies De Telegraaf and De Volkskrant that they don't regret their testimony. Dutch citizens are legally obliged to report any knowledge they have about war crimes. "It was our civic duty to speak out, but we're paying a price."
Julio Poch has been accused of involvement in death flights during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. Thousands of left-wing opponents of General Jorge Videla were flown out to the ocean, drugged, and thrown out of the plane. Poch later emigrated to the Netherlands and became a civil pilot with Transavia.
Two of his Dutch colleagues, flight captains Tim Weert and Edwin Reijnoudt Brouwer, were interrogated earlier this week by Mr Poch's lawyers. The newspapers quote them as saying that they shared a table with Julio Poch at a pilot's dinner on Bali in 2003. Someone made a critical remark about Jorge Zorreguita, the father of Argentinian-born Dutch Princess Máxima. Mr Zorreguita was a junior minister in the Videla junta.
Julio Poch is said to have spoken out in defence of death flights, allegedly saying, "They were left-wing terrorists! It was what they deserved! We threw them into the ocean!". Mr Poch later said he was misunderstood.
Another co-pilot of Poch's, Jeroen Wiedenhoff, said he once mentioned the Videla regime to Poch, who allegedly responded angrily: "They should have killed all of them [the left opposition - Ed.]." In addition, jokes about Poch had been going around Transavia for years. One such joke was: Don't sit near the door, the plane is being flown by Poch.
The three pilots' statements prompted Argentina to take legal action and to demand Mr Poch's arrest. He was apprehended in Spain in 2009, after the very last flight on the day he was due to retire. Spain extradited him to Argentina, where he was released on bail after 15 months in prison.
Julio Poch could get a life sentence, but is not likely to be convicted if charges are based on his colleagues' testimony alone.
The Transavia pilots say Mr Poch is a capable pilot and a nice chap. They never wanted him to be detained for months, and said they would welcome him back if he is found not guilty.