An alleged Nazi war criminal living in Australia has won a long battle against the government’s attempts to extradite him to Hungary to stand trial for the murder of a Jewish teenager.
Charles Zentai, now 90, was accused by Hungarian authorities of beating to death a Jewish teenager, Peter Balazs, in Budapest in 1944.
Australia’s highest court ruled that Zentai could not be extradited to the country of his birth because the offence “war crime” did not exist in Hungarian law at the time the murder was alleged to have been committed.
“They way I feel at the moment? I don’t know. I’m just overwhelmed,” Zentai said.
Zentai, who migrated to Australia in 1950 and became an Australian citizen, has maintained his innocence throughout his legal challenge.
He was a 23-year-old warrant officer in the pro-Nazi Hungarian military at the time of Balazs’ death, but says that he was not in Budapest when the attack took place.
A spokesperson for Jason Clare, the Australian home affairs minister, confirmed that Zentai would not be surrendered to Hungary.
A retired mental health nurse, Zentai was arrested by Australian police in 2005 after Hungary requested his extradition. Australia ordered in 2009 that Zentai be sent to Hungary, but the Federal Court overturned that ruling in 2011.
The government contested that decision, but Wednesday’s court ruling threw out its appeal and leaves the government with no further challenges.
Zentai’s family welcomed the ruling, but told Australian radio that they wanted the Australian government to apologise.
“As a soldier I just had to carry out orders … but none of those orders I was given had anything to do with rounding up Jews or torturing them or anything like that,” Zentai told Australian television in 2008.
Those seeking Zentai’s prosecution, however, were critical of the ruling.
“The fact of the matter is that people who committed these crimes should not be ignored or allowed to elude justice simply because they’ve reached the age of 90, or even 95 or 97,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera.
“His chronological age is irrelevant. We don’t think that old age should afford protection for people who committed murder. The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers.
“Every victim of the Nazis deserves that an effort be made that the person who turned an innocent person into a victim, to be held accountable. And, quite frankly, I think it sends a very powerful message that even today, we’re trying to bring these people to justice.”
Source: Al Jazeera