AMSTERDAM (May. 13)
The second trial of Pieter Menten, whose first conviction and sentence on war crimes charges was quashed by the Supreme Court in 1978, opened today in a Rotterdam district court. Witnesses from Israel, Poland, the Soviet Union and the United States are expected to testify against him.
Menten’s new trial is the culmination of two years of tortuous legal maneuvering by the defense and prosecution in which rulings by one court were overturned by another. But the 80-year-old millionaire Dutch-born art dealer who served with the Nazi SS during World War II still stands accused of mass murders, mostly of Jews, in Podhorodze village in the lemberg district of Poland in July 1941.
An Amsterdam district court found him guilty on that charge in December 1977 and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment. He was acquitted of charges of mass murder in Urycz village. Although the court considered his guilt probable, there was in sufficient evidence for conviction.
Menten appealed to the Supreme Court which threw out the Amsterdam verdict and referred the case to the Hogue district court. The latter ruled that Menten could not be prosecuted because of immunity allegedly granted him in 1952 by the then Minister of Justice, since deceased. The public prosecutor appealed in turn to the Supreme Court which then referred the case to the Rotterdam court.
Menten produced medical evidence that he was mentally until to stand trial. This was upheld by a vote of 2-1 by a special panel of doctors. But the Rotterdam court subsequently overruled that finding. Menten has been under house arrest for the past two years at his country villa. His original lawyer, Louis van Heyningen, has resigned and the court appointed a new defense attorney, Eduard Boehl. The public prosecutor, Leo Meyers, has called 13 witnesses and three expert witnesses, all but one of whom had testified at the first trial. Menten asked for 120 witnesses to be heard in his defense but the court limited that to 30. The trial will be hold on Tuesdays and Friday.
On the first-day of his trial, Menten denied that there ever was a mass execution at Podhorodze or that he had helped shoot the victims or bashed in their shells. He claimed, as he had at his first trial, that the charges against him were a Communist plot engineered by the Soviet Union. He alleged that the investigators had failed to find any reliable witnesses against him and that those who had testified were “told what to say” by the Soviet authorities.