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Wiesenthal Center Urges Latvia, Australia to Indict War Criminals

The Simon Wiesenthal Center believes that 64 suspected Latvian war criminals are living in Australia and has called on the Australian government to take action against them.

The center’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, gave the Australian ambassador to Israel the list of names and urged Australia to investigate the cases quickly.

Zuroff called on Australia to immediately begin proceedings against one suspect, Karlis Ozols, according to a statement released by the center.

Zuroff charged that Ozols, now living in a suburb of Melbourne was an officer in the mobile-killing squad known as the Arajs Kommando, or Latvian Auxiliary Security Police, which collaborated with the Nazi SS during World War II.

About 75,000 Jews, or more than 90 percent of Latvia’s prewar Jewish community, were murdered by the Nazis — with help from local residents.

Zuroff called on Australia to deport war-crimes suspects for immigration violations in those cases where criminal prosecution under Australian law is “problematic” — an indirect criticism of Australia’s record of inaction against alleged war criminals.

Of the more than 800 people investigated by the Australian government since 1989 for participation in Nazi war crimes, only three have faced charges.

None of the prosecutions have been successful, although Australian government officials estimate that at least 500 people who participanted in crimes against humanity came to Australia after the war.

“Under the current circumstances, Australia is an ideal haven for Nazi war criminals, and this will continue to be the case until the Australian government makes a concerted effort to take legal action against Holocaust perpetrators residing all over the country,” Zuroff said.

Zuroff also urged the Latvian authorities to cooperate with Australia in the investigation of alleged war criminals.

Latvian officials are meanwhile continuing their investigation of one suspected Nazi war criminal living in Australia.

Konrad Kalejs, 84, is also alleged to have been a member of the Arajs Kommando and stands accused of having participated in the killing of 20,000 Jews in Latvia.

Kalejs, who had been deported from the United States in 1994, was deported by Canada to Australia in August. Australian officials have said it is unlikely that he would be prosecuted there.

The Latvian Parliament recently reaffirmed the need to investigate Kalejs, saying that the controversy surrounding him was tarnishing the Baltic nation’s image.

But the person in charge of the Kalejs investigation in Latvia — prosecutor Uldis Strelis — is himself the target of controversy.

In September, Strelis said his investigative team had found no evidence to support any of the allegations against Kalejs.

After issuing his findings, Strelis made a number of anti-Semitic comments that prompted Latvian Jewish leaders to call for his dismissal.

The Latvian Prosecutor General’s Office rebuked Strelis, saying it was “categorically disassociating” itself from Strelis’ anti-Semitic statements, and called for the probe to continue.

Despite the criticism, Strelis remains in charge of the investigation.

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