zentai 224.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
An Australian judge upheld a ruling Tuesday that could pave the way for the extradition of an 87-year-old Hungarian emigre accused of killing a Jewish teenager during World War II.
Federal Court Justice John Gilmour concurred with a decision issued last year by a judge who said Charles Zentai was eligible for extradition.
Hungary accuses Zentai of torturing and killing Peter Balazs, 18, in a Budapest army barracks on Nov. 8, 1944, for failing to wear a star that would identify him as a Jew.
Zentai says he is innocent and was not in Budapest when the slaying occurred.
He is expected to appeal to the full court next week. If the court rules against him, then Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus will make the final determination on the extradition.
Zentai's son, Ernie Steiner, said the family was disappointed by Gilmour's decision but had not given up hope.
"While we've still got that hope, we just look to the next step," Steiner told reporters outside the court. "We place trust in the Australian system, and my father has that right. He is exercising his right to justice."
Zentai is listed by the US-based Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center among its 10 most wanted for having "participated in manhunts, persecution, and murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944."
Zentai, who emigrated to Australia in 1950, has spent three years fighting extradition.
The Wiesenthal Center said it welcomed Gilmour's decision.
In a statement issued in Jerusalem by its chief Nazi hunter Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the center called upon the Australian judicial authorities to help achieve justice by putting an end to the repeated technical appeals launched by Zentai which are purely a diversionary tactic to prevent his trial in Hungary.
"Seven months ago, Perth Magistrate Barbara Lane described Zentai's claim that the murder of Balazs was not a war crime when it was committed as 'misconceived and quite misleading,'" said Zuroff. "Justice Gilmour today affirmed that decision and ruled as well that the charge against Zentai is a war crime. It is high time that he be tried in a court of law so that justice can finally be achieved. The memory of Peter Balazs and the incredible pain of his family deserve no less."