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Dutch Court Frees Menten

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A special tribunal of The Hague District Court today freed Dutch millionaire Pieter Menten, 79, who was serving a 15-year sentence for mass murders of Jews and others he committed in a Polish village during World War II while serving with the Nazi SS. Menten had been in detention for two years and was sentenced by an Amsterdam district court last December. During most of that time he was in a prison hospital undergoing treatment for diabetes.

The tribunal ordered the return to Menten of all of his property confiscated by the police at the time of his arrest, including his passport. Public Prosecutor Richard Schimmel announced that he would appeal the tribunal’s decision but Menten may already have left Holland. The Hague verdict is expected to have strong political and emotional repercussions.

VERDICT BASED ON PROMISE

It stemmed apparently from Menten’s claim that he had received an oral promise from the late Minister of Justice Leendert Donker, in October 1952, that he would never be prosecuted for his wartime activities. The Supreme Court referred the case to the special tribunal with instructions to investigate the grounds for Menten’s appeal. The investigation, begun last September, failed to yield any evidence that Menten had been promised immunity.

However, the widow of Menten’s lawyer immediately after the war, L.G. Kortenhorst, submitted a sworn statement that her late husband had told her about the promise. The tribunal attached considerable importance to the 88-year-old widow’s statement and also held that the renewed prosecution of Menten 25 years later is in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The tribunal did not address the reasons for the alleged promise by the late Justice Minister. According to Menten himself, he was given immunity after he promised not to release knowledge in his possession of a scandal involving several highly placed persons in Holland. The tribunal also did not concern itself with Menten’s guilt which had been proven.

The case caused a government crisis in 1976 when Menten, then under investigation, escaped from Dutch security officials into Switzerland, where he was later extradited. Dutch Jewish journalist Hans Knoop, whose investigative reporting led to the Menten trial, said today the freeing of Menten constituted “a black day for Dutch justice.” J. Teengs Gerritsen, a Dutch wartime resistance leader, said he was dismayed and angered that Menten should have been set free on a technicality. In the 1950s the Dutch government rejected extradition requests from Poland and Israel.

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