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The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center on Thursday deplored as an outrageous travesty of justice the decision by a Hungarian court not to enforce the conviction of a top Hungarian war criminal for crimes he committed during World War II.
The Budapest Municipal Court ruling not to take action against Sandor Kepiro, 93, who was convicted in a Hungarian court but who was never punished for his crimes was lambasted by the organization's chief Nazi-hunter, who had exposed the Kepiro's whereabouts last year and had spearheaded a public campaign to mete out punishment.
"The mistaken and misguided verdict grants a totally undeserved prize to a unrepentant and cynical war criminal who has never been punished for his heinous crimes, which have been fully verified by a Hungarian court of law," the center's Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff said in a statement.
The court decision, which was made on February 19 and made public on Thursday, can be appealed by the Hungarian prosecution within eight days of its publication.
The municipal court did not provide an explanation for the ruling.
Kepiro was convicted in 1944 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, the Wiesenthal Center said last year.
After details of the massacres in the region - which Hungary had annexed as a prize for its collaboration with Nazi Germany - were revealed, Kepiro was sentenced in 1944 to 10 years in jail for his role in the killings.
But after the Nazi invasion of Hungary, Kepiro was cleared by a Nazi-dominated military tribunal which acquitted him and restored his rank.
He went on to become the highest-ranking gendarmerie officer in the city and participated in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz, the Wiesenthal Center said.
"He was saved by the Nazis in 1944, and now, six decades later, a Hungarian court is letting a Nazi decision save him again," Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post.
After the war, Kepiro escaped to Austria where he lived for three years.
The center had previously said that Kepiro was also tried in absentia by a Communist people's court in 1946, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but now says that this second conviction is uncertain.
Two years later, he moved to Argentina where he lived for nearly half a century before returning to Budapest in the 1990s.
Kepiro has denied the allegations against him, asserting that while he was present at the Novi Sad massacres it was Hungarian soldiers - and not gendarmes like him - who did the shooting.
"It is important to remember that the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrators," Zuroff concluded.