NEW YORK (Sep. 4)
Walter Kutschmann, the Nazi war criminal fighting extradition to West Germany, was buried in Argentina on September 1. For society at large, his death, apparently caused by a heart attack, serves to validate the maxim, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Kutschmann’s demise also helped the Argentine government out of the embarrassing position in which it was placed by a federal judge who recently decided to take at least two more years to determine whether the man who claimed to be Pedro Ricardo Olmo, a Spaniard, was really-Kutschmann.
The Kutschmann case has been an exercise in delay. It first came before the Argentine courts in August, 1975. The government of West Germany asked for his arrest and extradition that year after Simon Wiesenthal identified Olmo as Kutschmann, the war criminal who had murdered several thousand Jews in Poland. That same month, the Argentine prosecutor asked the government of Spain for the finger prints of Pedro Olmo. He never followed up his request and the case became dormant.
In June, 1980, Judge Jorge Segretto was informed that the case file had been laying in a courthouse safe for five years. The Argentine court then renewed its efforts to get necessary documents.
Six years later, on July 28, 1986, the prosecutor presented the same Judge Segretto with a bulging file of properly certified documents which, in the opinion of well informed individuals in Argentina and Germany, proved beyond doubt that Olmo was in fact Kutschmann. The evidence included the death certificate and finger prints of Pedro Ricardo Olmo.
INSTANCES OF UNCONSCIONABLE HASTE
The Kutschmann case has also been marked with instances of unconscionable haste. Judge Enrique Carlos Schlegel, the presiding judge, allowed less than five minutes for court hearings on Kutschmann’s identity. When “Olmo” came before him on November 18, 1983, Judge Schlegel accepted as true his assertions that he was Olmo, born in Spain, and that he knew nothing of-Kutschmann. The judge did not permit the questioning to go beyond those answers.
Segretto, acting with unusual speed, took less than 24 hours to announce the most recent and most shocking delay. Upon receiving the completed file on July 28, 1986 he had three options — to issue a summary decision in a day or two, to deliberate for a week or two, or to proceed with an “ordinary” trial to determine Kutschmann’s identity. The latter would require a period of 2 to 5 years.
To the dismay of many and the embarrassment of the executive branch of the Argentine government, Segretto — who has known the case for six years — chose the “ordinary” trial procedure.
The Argentine judiciary now has an even more badly tarnished image. Although Kutschmann is dead, his flouting of justice has caused many to wonder why he and other Nazis are still protected in Argentina.
Even in death, Kutschmann mocked the justice system. The Spaniard, “Olmo”, was buried in the German cemetery of Polvorines, in Buenos Aires province.