Court clears Australia to extradite Nazi

Extradition hearing found to be constitutional, accused war criminal can stand trial in Hungary.

zentai 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
zentai 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Australia may soon extradite its first Nazi-era war criminal. On Wednesday the country's Supreme Court ruled that extradition hearings in the Perth Magistrates Court for Charles Zentai, a former Hungarian officer who has lived in Australia since 1950, are constitutional. Zentai, who has been fighting extradition since his arrest by federal police in Perth in July 2005, is accused of beating to death Jewish teenager Peter Balazs in November 1944. According to the allegations, Zentai grew up in the same neighborhood as Balazs in a suburb of Budapest, and knew the former was Jewish. On November 8, 1944, Zentai reportedly saw Balazs on a Budapest streetcar while the 18-year-old Jew was not wearing the mandatory yellow star badge. Zentai is accused of having dragged Balazs to his army barracks and beating him to death with the help of two officers who served in the same barracks. Zentai is then believed to have thrown Balazs's body into the Danube. The 86-year-old Zentai denies having committed the crime, claiming he had left Budapest the day before the crime was committed. He has been sought by Hungarian authorities since 1945. Zentai was located in Perth by the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Nazi hunters, who acted on information supplied by Balasz's brother Adam Balasz in 2004. Using Yad Vashem archives which track post-war Nazi migration, in 2005 the center found Zentai's name on the voter registration lists in Perth. "It is important to remember that the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the perpetrators and that suspected killers should not be ignored simply because they have hereto eluded justice," said the group's chief Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff. The court decision does not guarantee the extradition to Hungary will take place, but merely affirmed that current extradition procedures are constitutional. Zentai will still face an extradition hearing in the Perth Magistrates Court and is reportedly likely to appeal his case to the Home Affairs Minister due to his age and health. Nevertheless, the decision was warmly received by the Australian Jewish community. The continuation of the case "sends out a clear message that Australia is not a place for corrupt people who committed crimes against humanity to disappear into the bush, but a country that takes issues of justice seriously," Jeremy Jones, director of community affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) told the Australian Jewish News in the wake of the court decision. "In the 1960s, Australia had an official policy" allowing fugitives to "escape your past," Jones explained. "Only in the 1980s were our laws changed to recognize the fact that there is a huge difference between a refugee and a fugitive. No-one should ever be allowed to evade the consequences of their actions simply by crossing a national border."