The Hungarian government should investigate the role its diplomats played in the case of a man who evaded punishment for war crimes he committed during World War II, the Los-Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Thursday.
Dr. Sandor Kepiro, 93, was discovered living in the Budapest last year. He had been there for several years after hiding for decades in Argentina.
Kepiro was convicted in absentia in 1944 and 1946 for his role in the murder of 1,246 civilians in the city of Novi Sad in January 1942, when he served as a gendarme with a Hungarian army unit allied with Nazi Germany, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Wiesenthal Center, said Thursday.
Zuroff, who uncovered the legal papers last year, said he was stunned that Hungarian officials had failed to act on the case in the six months since he provided them with the documentation.
"In my worst nightmares, I never imagined that at this point he would still be unprosecuted and/or unpunished for these heinous crimes," Zuroff wrote in a letter to visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga G ncz.
"Given the fact that the 1944 and 1946 verdicts against Kepiro have mysteriously disappeared from the Hungarian archives, there appears to be grounds to suspect that perhaps Hungarian officials, including members of the diplomatic corps, assisted this convicted criminal to return to Hungary and are trying to protect him from prosecution and punishment," he wrote.
A group of historians has invited Kepiro to speak at a conference in Budapest on February 14 at the educational center for the Hungarian Justice Ministry, Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post.
Hungarian courts in December had requested Belgrade archive information on the case, beyond that provided by the Wiesenthal Center, but the documentation had not yet arrived, Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Viktor Polgar said Thursday. The Hungarian Justice Ministry had also requested to speed the arrival of the documentation, he said.
Polgar said Hungary had a "very strict adamant and keen" policy in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice. The Hungarian Justice Ministry had taken a "very strong stand" against Kepiro's participation at the planned conference, he added.
The issue had been raised during a meeting between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and G ncz, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official said Thursday, adding that Livni had "full confidence" in the Hungarian justice system.
The issue was also discussed at a dinner hosted by Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev Thursday night, a Yad Vashem spokeswoman said.
After details of the massacres in the region were revealed, Kepiro was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1944 for his role in the killings. Hungary had annexed the region as a prize for its collaboration with Nazi Germany.
But after the Nazi invasion of Hungary, Kepiro was cleared by a Nazi-dominated military tribunal that acquitted him and restored his rank. He went on to become the highest ranking gendarme in the city and participated in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz, the Wiesenthal Center said.
After the war, Kepiro escaped to Austria where he lived for three years. In 1946, he was tried in absentia by a Communist people's court and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Two years later, he moved to Argentina where he lived for nearly half a century before returning to Budapest.
Kepiro has denied the allegations against him, saying that while he was present at the Novi Sad massacres, it was Hungarian soldiers, and not gendarmes like him, who did the shooting.
"People like Kepiro are the moral monsters who were fully aware of the illegality and immorality of the orders they received but carried them out regardless," Zuroff said.
"Every day that goes by without him being brought to justice brings him closer to eluding punishment."