Christie meets with Portuguese ambassador

Gov. Christie met diplomat at a Portuguese restaurant.
Gov. Christie met diplomat at a Portuguese restaurant.

The envoy visited Newark for a meeting he said was about forging stronger business ties with New Jersey.

Posted: January 21, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - Portugal's ambassador to the United States met with Gov. 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 cases involving fugitives with ties to both New Jersey and Portugal are being fought over in U.S. and Portuguese courts. Christie and Ambassador Nuno Brito would not discuss the court cases or say whether they had spoken about them.

U.S. officials are appealing the refusal of Portugal's Supreme Court of Justice to extradite George Wright to New Jersey.

Wright was arrested last year in Portugal after 41 years on the lam. U.S. officials want him returned to serve the rest of his 15- to 30-year sentence for the 1962 killing of a gas station attendant during a robbery in New Jersey.

The Portuguese government has refused to extradite Wright. It cites his current Portuguese citizenship and says the statute of limitations on the New Jersey murder has expired.

Separately, a federal judge here 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 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 United States.

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 the Sol-Mar, a restaurant in the Ironbound, the heavily Portuguese neighborhood in Newark.

Brito said the Portuguese government was looking to forge closer ties with its diaspora, adding that the government was proud to see that the more than 150,000 New Jersey residents from Portugal or of Portuguese decent were well-represented in the state's political and business life.

The Portuguese government wants to increase its profile in the United States, Brito said, adding that he saw potential for cooperation in places such as the Port of Newark, one of the largest in the United States.

Brito said Portugal was "doing what it has to do" to maintain stability in the face of the European economic crisis, adding that Portugal has "a very good thing, which is political stability."

The restaurant was packed with local dignitaries, and 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 reporters, made his way through the restaurant, greeting people and posing for photos, before getting a takeout order of Portuguese food - joking that the Ironbound's restaurant row had much tastier fare than the offerings in Trenton.

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