More than a year after the Simon Wiesenthal Center brought to light the case of Milivoj Asner, his native Croatia has asked Austria to extradite the former police chief who sent hundreds of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies to their deaths in concentration camps and persecuted thousands more under racist laws of Croatia's pro-Nazi puppet regime.
The 92-year-old Asner, one of the most-wanted Nazi war-crimes suspects in the Simon Wiesenthal Center's "Operation Last Chance," fled to Austria in June 2004 to avoid prosecution in Croatia. Although the center had revealed Asner's whereabouts in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, neither country had responded as of Thursday.
Now that Croatia has requested Asner's extradition, Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office is asking Austria to either honor the request or try him in Austria. Noting that Austria had failed to successfully prosecute a single Holocaust criminal in the past 30 years, Zuroff urged Austrian justice officials to honor the memory of the late Simon Wiesenthal by speedily processing the Asner case.
"The time has come," said Zuroff, "to translate all the words of praise for Mr. Wiesenthal and his quest for justice into practical judicial action. To do otherwise would turn the glowing praise showered upon him this week into meaningless clich s devoid of any significance."
Wiesenthal, who died in Vienna on Tuesday at the age of 96, is to be buried in Herzliya on Friday morning.
Austria's Justice Ministry said Thursday that its own prosecutors were investigating Asner, because Austrian law does not allow for extraditions of Austrian citizens for trial abroad. Asner holds both Croatian and Austrian citizenship.
A spokesman for Austria's Justice Ministry said the decision on whether to bring charges against Asner in Austria was expected to come in the next two months.
Croatian Justice Minister Vesna Skare Ozbolt, however, said, "We expect Austria to respond to our request. We did absolutely everything in our power. The onus is now on Austria."
Croatia has so far tried and convicted only one World War II criminal, Dinko Sakic, who was extradited from Argentina. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty at the time 20 years in prison in 1999.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.