A former high-ranking Filipino diplomat who has waged a year-long battle to win political asylum in the United States will be returned to Australia to face charges that he embezzled $81,000, the State Department said yesterday.
Joselito Casilana Azurin, an Oxford-educated career diplomat who has spent the last 11 months in the Arlington County jail awaiting the outcome of his appeal, is expected to be flown to Canberra, Australia, on Monday, officials said.
The decision marked the end of Azurin's long fight against an Australian request for extradition, a move that Azurin, a critic of the Marcos government in the Philippines, has said amounts to political persecution.
The news of the decision shocked Azurin's wife, Norma, who has lived in McLean with the couple's five children while her husband was in jail. "I am very bitter, I didn't think this could happen in a country of human rights, like America," she said choking back sobs.
Norma Azurin, 38, who said she and one of her children have begun undergoing psychotherapy because of their family's situation, said she spoke with her husband at the jail on Tuesday after learning of the decision.
"We could only talk on a telephone, and could see him only through a tiny glass window. He said he is a man of God, and that this is God's will. On the way back home in the car we were all crying," she said.
Azurin, 39, once the Philippines' highest-ranking diplomat in Australia, testified during court hearings here that he cashed an Australian check, payable to the Philippine government, and kept the money under orders from his diplomatic superiors as part of a "kickback" scheme.
Azurin claimed in court that if he were extradited to Australia he would eventually be returned to the Philippines, a country he has denounced as "dictatorial." Azurin defected from the Philippines in 1978.
Deputy Secretary of State Warren G. Christopher ruled on Monday, however, that the Australian government had "sufficient evidence" against Azurin to justify his extradition there.
Sources familiar with the detailed extradition arrangements worked out between the U.S. and Australian governments said that "assurances" had been made by both sides that if Azurin is convicted and serves a sentence there he would later be deported "only to a country he wants to go to." The sources said the country "must be willing to receive him."
Azurin's family also has applied for asylum here, although the State Department has not yet acted on their requests.
Azurin was arrested at his rented home in McLean on April 7, 1979, by federal officials acting at the request of the Australian government. His request to be released on bond pending the extradition hearing was denied last June 22 by federal Judge Oren R. Lewis, in Alexandria. The merits of the embezzlement charge have never been debated in U.S. courts.
The Philippine government has denied that the dark-haired, slightly built Azurin was ever ordered by his superiors to take money, or that any officials had received it. A spokesman at the Philippine Embassy in Washington also denied yesterday that the Marcos government has any intention of seeking his return.
If convicted in Australia of embezzlement, Azurin could face up to 10 years in prison, although a judge could give him credit for time served in jail in America, an Australian Embassy spokesman said.
For Norma Azurin, the choices she now faces give her literal nightmares, she said. "If I go to Australia to be with him I may never be able to enter the U.S. again, and I don't want my children to leave their new homeland. This may be the end of the road," she said.