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Third Australian to Be Charged with War Crimes Pleads Not Guilty

The third immigrant to Australia to be charged with crimes against humanity during World War II has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Heinrich Wagner, 69, who was charged with crimes committed in Ukraine in 1942 under amended war crimes legislation, made his plea at the opening of the court proceedings Monday in Adelaide.

In his first appearance, Wagner denied involvement in both the murder of an estimated 104 Jews and the 1942 murder of 19 children of part-Jewish parentage in the Kirovograd region of Ukraine.

Wagner’s supporters have been heartened by the acquittal earlier this year of Ivan Polyukhovich, the first man charged in this country under the amended war crimes legislation.

The acquittal of Polyukhovich, who was also charged with war crimes in Ukraine, came after the judge warned the jury that the many years that had passed since the crimes prevented the accused of mounting a proper defense.

Miholay Berezowsky, the second person in Australia charged with crimes committed during World War II, did not face a formal trial after a committal hearing resulted in a ruling that insufficient evidence existed to try him for murder.

According to Australian law, a trial on murder charges is preceded by a so-called committal hearing in which it is determined if there is sufficient evidence for a formal trial.

In September 1992, an Adelaide magistrate presiding over a committal hearing accepted as evidence drawings by an artist who said he had witnessed atrocities committed by Wagner, an ethnic German who lived in Ukraine.

Other witnesses included a man who served eight years in a Soviet prison for involvement in the crimes of which Wagner is accused; villagers who testified that Wagner wore a police uniform in 1942 and 1943; two witnesses who testified they saw a blood-splattered mass grave of Jews in the village of Ustinovka, where Wagner allegedly operated; and Wagner’s former wife.

Australia’s War Crimes Amendment Act was passed by Parliament in December 1988.

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