Nazi-hunter and director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff blasted the Austrian legal establishment at a press conference in Vienna Wednesday, calling Austria "a paradise for Nazi war criminals."
Zuroff, who was in Vienna for talks with the Austrian interior and justice ministers regarding the Wiesenthal Center's "Operation Last Chance," blamed the Austrian judiciary for being "passive, working slowly and protecting Nazi-criminals."
Austrian Justice Minister Karin Gastinger "rejected" Zuroff's statement, according to the local Der Standard newspaper. "I understand his position, he has difficulties understanding that certain elements of [criminal] offenses have statutes of limitations in Austria. Nevertheless, Austria is a constitutional state," Gastinger was quoted as saying.
Zuroff's comments were made regarding the case of a former woman prison guard at the Majdanek concentration camp.
In the 70s, there were preliminary proceedings against the woman who admittedly was part of the Nazi system, but her alleged crime of assisted homicide fell under the statute of limitations according to Austrian law.
"A country with such laws is not interested in the pursuit of war criminals," Zuroff said. However, according to Israeli legal sources, Israel's code of law includes the same clause.
There were more promising developments n another case investigated by Zuroff in Austria. The former chief of the police forces of the fascist Ustasha regime, Milivoj Asner, 92, also accused of assisted homicide, can now presumably be handed over to Croatian authorities for prosecution.
According to the Korinthia authorities, Asner applied for Croatian citizenship in 1992. If he did not apply for double citizenship, "he automatically becomes denationalized in Austria," a Korinthian spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post.
"I call upon Austria to immediately arrest Asner. He must not be allowed to run away again," Zuroff said. However, according to Austrian law, Asner cannot be arrested without evidence of a crime. An independent court of justice will now decide about Asner's extradition to Croatia.
Zuroff said "the whole [Austrian legal] system is Nazi-friendly! There was no conviction in Austria in 30 years."
An Austrian Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Post: "We do everything within legal limits to see that justice is done. Zuroff's statements are factually wrong, but morally understandable."