SYDNEY, Australia (May. 18)
An Adelaide jury has acquitted Ivan Polyukhovich, the first accused Nazi war criminal to be tried under special Australian legislation passed to ensure such prosecutions.
The jury took one hour to reach a verdict following eight weeks of evidence.
The outcome was not unexpected, given Judge Brian Cox’s instructions to the jury. Cox stressed that the lapse of 50 years since the time of the alleged crimes made it difficult for Polyukhovich to defend himself.
The judge told the jurors they were duty-bound to consider that the case would have been more strongly defended had the charges been brought against Polyukhovich nearer the time they were committed.
“Given that, it would be dangerous to convict on the evidence brought against him,” the judge reportedly said.
Craig Caldicott, Polyukhovich’s lawyer, said that his client had always proclaimed his innocence and was now “very relieved.”
“Fifty years have elapsed since the events and there were many difficulties with witness evidence,” he said.
The 77-year-old Polyukhovich was charged with involvement in the murder of up to 850 Jews, and the murder of a Jewish woman and two children in the Ukraine in 1942.
While Australian Jewish groups appeared to respect the decision of the court, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was concerned with the judge’s comments.
The judge’s remarks constituted an “ominous sign that casts doubt over the process of the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in Australia,” said Efraim Zuroff, director of its Israel office.
“If Judge Cox’s instructions represent judicial policy, then there is no point in continuing to prosecute Nazi war criminals in Australia, and the special law passed expressly for that purpose will ultimately be considered a dramatic but futile gesture, passed merely to placate public opinion but which achieved no practical results whatsoever,” Zuroff said.
However, Isi Leibler, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said, “The Australian Jewish community respected the decision of the Australian court.”
Speaking from Jerusalem, Leibler said, “The Australian government had acted properly by allowing for the prosecution to take place and ensuring that Australian standards of evidence were upheld.
“The trial outcome does not weaken the argument that Australia has a responsibility to ensure that individuals alleged to have committed crimes against humanity could be tried in Australian courts,” Leibler said.