NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Portugal’s ambassador to the United States met with Gov. Chris Christie on Friday for a private discussion that the ambassador said centered on forging closer business ties between the state and the European nation.
The meeting came as two separate cases involving fugitives with ties to both New Jersey and Portugal are being fought over in U.S. and Portuguese courts.
Both Christie and Portuguese Ambassador Nuno Brito refused to discuss the court cases or confirm whether they had spoken about them privately.
U.S. officials are appealing the refusal of Portugal’s Supreme Court to extradite fugitive George Wright to New Jersey.
Wright, 68, was arrested last September by Portuguese authorities after 41 years on the lam.
He was convicted of fatally shooting Walter Patterson, a World War II veteran, Bronze Star recipient and father of two, at the Collingswood Esso gas station during a November 1962 robbery in Wall Township.
But on Aug. 19, 1970, Wright and three other inmates escaped from the Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, New Jersey.
Two years later, he and other members of the Black Liberation Army hijacked a Delta flight that was on its way from Detroit to Miami.
Wright apparently had dressed as a priest and used the alias the Rev. L. Burgess to board the flight.
After landing in Miami, the hijackers demanded a $1 million ransom — the highest of its kind at the time — in exchange for the passengers. After releasing the hostages, they forced the plane to fly to Boston to refuel before leaving for Algeria.
Wright was briefly detained, but was released and has been on the lam ever since. He had been hiding out in Portugal where he got married and has two children.
It is unclear how Wright was eventually tracked down. U.S. government officials want Wright returned to serve the rest of his 15 to 30-year sentence.
But the Portuguese government has refused to extradite Wright. It cites the fact that he’s now a citizen of that country and says the statute of limitations on the New Jersey murder has expired.
Separately, a federal judge in Newark ruled Thursday that Manuel Soares, who was born in New Jersey but holds Portuguese citizenship, must be extradited to Portugal to face a prison sentence for plotting to kill his ex-wife.
Soares has fought extradition since he was detained in New Jersey last year. A trial court acquitted him in 2007, but Portugal’s Supreme Court of Justice reversed the acquittal and sentenced him to four years and six months in prison. By the time authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in 2009, Soares was in the U.S.
The warrant was discovered last year when he was pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike for driving in a carpool lane without the requisite number of passengers.
Christie met with Brito on Friday at a restaurant in a heavily Portuguese neighborhood in Newark called The Ironbound, known for its Portuguese shops and restaurants and named for the railroad tracks that surround it and the metal foundries that once drew working-class immigrants to the city.
Nuno said the Portuguese government was looking to forge closer ties with its diaspora, adding that the government was proud to see that among the more than 150,000 New Jersey residents from Portugal or of Portuguese decent, they were well-represented in the political and business life of the state.
The Portuguese government is looking to increase its profile in the states, Nuno said, adding that he saw lots of potential for cooperation in places such as between the Port of Newark, one of the largest in the U.S., and the ports of Portugal.
Nuno said Portugal was “doing what it has to do” to maintain stability in the face of the economic crisis sweeping across many European nations, adding that Portugal has “a very good thing, which is political stability.”
The Sol-mar restaurant in Newark was packed with local dignitaries, community, business and elected leaders of New Jersey’s Portuguese community, and residents greeting one another in a mix of Portuguese and English.
Christie, who declined to speak to the media, made his way through the restaurant, greeting people and posing for photos, before getting a takeout order of Portuguese food, joking that Newark’s Ironbound restaurant row had much tastier fare than the offerings in Trenton.
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