Israel has protested the Estonian government's decision to close its investigation into suspected Nazi collaborator Harry Mannil and the state prosecutor's attack on the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The matters were raised this week with Marina Kaljurand, Estonia's non-resident ambassador to Israel. Sources in Jerusalem told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that Israel expressed their amazement regarding Estonian State Prosecutor Heino Tonismagi's statement that "Estonia was occupied at the time. Those were the crimes of an occupying country," which could be interpreted to mean that crimes committed under the Nazi occupation of Estonia are solely the crimes of the occupier.
"To our great dismay, we know that a significant number of Estonian citizens played an active role in the occupying Nazi regime," the source said.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded Wednesday, "Israel's Foreign Ministry deems bringing Nazi war criminals to justice of utmost importance and won't be deterred from pursuing these goals. We are in contact with many governments, including Estonia, on this important issue. Regarding the matter at hand, the Mannil episode is well known to us, and we are studying the court decision now and will respond shortly."
Last Friday, the Estonian government closed its five-year investigation into Mannil, whom the Wiesenthal Center identified as a member of the Estonian Political Police, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and was responsible for the persecution and murder of civilians in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, in 1941.
During the press conference announcing the end of its investigation, Tonismagi accused the Wiesenthal Center of targeting Mannil because he was "one of the most outstanding Estonians."
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's Israel director, said "this [allegation] tries to deligitimize the effort to bring people like Mannil to justice." The prosecutor's statements had "wider implications," as they challenged the Wiesenthal Center's mission to bring former Nazis to justice and impugned its motives, he told the Post.
The investigation was being closed because of lack of evidence, Tonismagi said Friday.
"We established that Mannil interrogated some of the arrested people," The European Jewish Press quoted him as saying. "But Harry Mannil could not have participated in the arrest of those people. We did not find any documents or witnesses to prove that he participated in the arrest of Jews or in taking decisions about their fate, to say nothing of executing decisions about these people."
Zuroff vigorously denounced the investigation, saying it was "a pathetic whitewash for political reasons of an active Nazi collaborator who, thanks to the ineptitude and/or corruption of the Estonian prosecution, will apparently never be held accountable for his crimes...
"It is obvious that Estonia, which has... failed to convict a single local Nazi war criminal since it regained its independence, still lacks the political courage to face the practical implications of the active complicity of its nationals in Holocaust crimes," he said in a statement.
Mannil, a multimillionaire philanthropist, lives in Venezuela. He was discovered in connection with a 1992 Wiesenthal Center investigation into his superior officer, Evald Mikson. So far, the Wiesenthal Center has managed to get Mannil barred from entering the US.
Zuroff said, in light of the Estonian government's decision, the case against Mannil had reached a temporary impasse as there was no other venue in which to try him.
He said the International Criminal Court only accepts cases that have occurred since its founding in July 2002, and The Hague does not deal with WWII cases.