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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

You can run but you cant hide

'Nazi war criminal' takes fight to High Court

The High Court has granted a man accused of a Nazi war crime the right to appeal against his extradition from Perth, in Western Australia, to Hungary.

Charles Zentai, 85, has been accused of killing a Jewish civilian in Budapest in 1944.

Zentai has denied the charge, but Hungarian authorities want him to try him for murder.

Zentai has been fighting extradition since the issuing of an international arrest warrant more than two years ago.

His case centres on events in the dying days of the World War II in Hungary.

As Soviet troops were advancing on Budapest, a young man called Peter Balazs was apparently taken off a city tram because he was not wearing a yellow Star of David, which all Jews were forced to wear.

He was tortured and killed and his body was thrown into the Danube.

More than 60 years on, Zentai is accused of taking part in the killing.

Nazi service

Zentai did serve in uniform under the Nazis in a Hungarian transport unit, but he says he was never involved in the murder of Mr Balazs.

With the Germans retreating before the unstoppable Soviet advance, Zentai says he left Budapest before the killing and took his family to Germany.

From there he went on to Italy, and arrived in Australia in 1950.

However soon after the war, two of Zentai's comrades were arrested and convicted of the murder and they implicated him.

The People's Court of Budapest issued an arrest warrant in 1948, but after leaving Hungary, Zentai moved through areas occupied by the Western Allies.

It appears that with the Cold War taking shape, US authorities never responded to the original arrest warrant from the People's Court.

It was not until 2005 that the Simon Wiesenthal Centre announced it had tracked Zentai to Perth.

The father of the murdered man was a lawyer, and he had gathered evidence which he said proved Zentai's involvement.

After the lawyer's death, the papers were eventually passed on to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Precedent set

The passage of so many decades means that Zentai is now old and infirm.

His son, Ernie Steiner, says the process for the issue of extradition should be handled in the federal system.

"I think it's a very important precedent because the Federal Court has allocated seven judges to hear the appeal, and I think that indicates the level of significance that this whole issue has attracted," he said.

He says his father will not travel to Canberra when the appeal is heard.

"I don't think so. For one, he has restrictions on his travel, according to the terms of his bail," he said.

"But also, he is not really well enough to travel. We'll probably just stay in Perth and await the outcome, I would say."

Mr Steiner says his father's health has deteriorated since the Federal Court appeal failed in April.

"His occurrence of heart arrhythmia has increased and he also has peripheral neuropathy, the symptoms there have worsened. Actually, he is going through a bout of gastro at the moment so he is not at a very good state," he said.

If Zentai fails in all of his appeals, he would be the first Australian to be accused of crimes during World War II to be extradited.

The right of appeal decision in the High Court yesterday constitutes a rare win for him, but it is still possible he will end up facing a Budapest court on a charge concerning a murder that occurred 63 years ago.

Bagelblogger: Surely some one accused of such a hideous crime would want to clear there name rahter than try to stay a step ahead of the legal system? As for the further deterioration in Mr Zentai's health, surely it would be more prudent to simply face his accusers quickly than prolong his pending court case by years of legal outmaneuvering?

Why is it that war criminals develop all these assorted health ailments as soon as they face extradition?

ABC News [australia]:
'Nazi war criminal' takes fight to High Court