American Fugitive Claims New Portuguese Identity to Avoid U.S. Law

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Noticias de Colares / AP

U.S. fugitive George Wright is seen in a post office in Praia das Macas, Portugal in 2000.

The man formerly known as George Wright, captured last week after 41 years on the lam, is fighting extradition to the U.S. by claiming he’s no longer a citizen.

In fact, the 68-year-old Wright is now a Portuguese citizen with a Portuguese name. He became Jose Luis Jorge dos Santos in 1991 after getting married in the country.

And it’s for this reason that, according to his lawyer, Wright has the right to serve his prison term in Portugal, not the United States. “As a Portuguese citizen, if he has to answer to any authority or if he has to serve any sentence, it has to be to Portuguese authorities and in Portuguese territory,” Manuel Luis Ferreira told the Associated Press.

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The U.S. Justice Department, who has requested Wright’s extradition across the Atlantic, declined to comment. Wright is currently sitting in a Lisbon jail as he awaits his fate, seeing where he’ll have to serve out the remainder of his 15-30 years for a 1962 murder. He was arrested Monday, his 41-year run from the law finally screeching to a halt after having spent decades living with his Portuguese wife and children in a quaint seaside town on a cobblestone street near a stunning beach.

“There’s no doubt whatsoever about his nationality,” Ferreira said, explaining the man now known as Mr. dos Santos has a Portuguese passport, driver’s license, and voter registration card. As a citizen, he’s entitled to serve the sentence in a Portuguese prison.

That may be true, but legal experts aren’t convinced. Philadelphia lawyer Norris Gelman told the AP that he thinks the U.S. “will move heaven and earth to get him back here.” And the U.S. is expected to challenge the legality of his citizenship, since it was likely obtained using false documents.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

(READ: George Wright Arrested in Portugal After 41-Year Run)

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