Australia blocks Nazi suspect extradition, draws ire

Court frees Zentai on ‘extreme’ technicality, says war crime offense not on books in Hungary in 1944.

August 15, 2012 20:52
2 minute read.
A Federal Court Judge in Australia [illustrative]

A Federal Court Judge in Canberra, Australia 370 (R). (photo credit: reuters)

Jewish groups on Wednesday rebuked Australia for blocking the extradition of suspected Nazi collaborator Charles (Karoly) Zentai on an "extreme" technicality.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said the Australian High Court's decision earlier in the day was deeply disappointing, sending a message that the murderers of Jews during World War II who immigrated to that country after the war were effectively immune from being brought to justice.

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“Today’s unfortunate decision to refuse the Hungarian extradition request appears to ignore numerous legal precedents which in the past facilitated the prosecution of the leaders of the Third Reich and additional Nazi war criminals," said Zuroff. "In practical terms, it signals a dismal conclusion to Australia’s totally unsuccessful efforts to bring to justice any of the numerous Nazi war criminals who found refuge in the country. Today is a sad day for Australia, and for justice, but most of all for the Nazis’ victims, their families and those who empathize with their suffering."

The Jewish official expressed sympathy with the Balazs family, which brought the case to court. The Balazs claimed that 90-yead-old Zentai and other Hungary army soldiers beat Peter Balazs in Budapest in 1944 because he was Jewish and threw his body into the Danube.

Zentai has said he is innocent of the charges against him. He was quoted by Australian media on Wednesday as saying he was happy with the court's decision despite suffering during the proceedings.

The 4-1 decision by the court rested on a technicality. It did not consider whether Zentai had been responsible for the death of Balazs. Rather, his lawyers successfully argued their client could not be extradited to Hungary for committing a "war crime" because it was not on the books in that country at the time of the murder. That legislation was only passed by Budapest in 1945, after the war ended and a year after the crime took place. Thus, the extradition request was invalid.

Judge Dyson Heydon,  who wrote the dissenting opinion, said the ruling was "extremely" technical.

The court's decision brought years of attempts to try alleged Nazis and collaborators who moved to Australia after the war to an end. Though 800 investigations had been opened resulting in four court cases, none of the suspects were found guilty.

Though the war ended 67 years ago, in recent years several legal precedents in trials of alleged Nazis and their collaborators have been set. In 2011 John Demjanjuk was found guilty by a German court of being an accessory to murder for his role as a guard at Sobibor, a death camp where hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered.

Meanwhile, investigations against and trials of other suspected war criminals are still ongoing in other countries. Last month Hungary said it would try Laszlo Cstatary, an alleged Nazi collaborator, for his role in the deportation and murder of thousands of Jews in the town of Kosice during World War II.

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