SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Jan. 15)
An accused Nazi war criminal who has been living here for nearly two decades may soon be extradited to Poland.
Officials of the Polish Embassy here say that in the coming days they will seek the extradition of Bohdan Koziy.
The diplomats said they are waiting for the arrival of paperwork from Poland’s Institute of National Memory to begin extradition proceedings against Koziy, 80, who served as a member of the Ukrainian Security Police under the aegis of Nazi Germany.
Poland’s decision to bring the Ukrainian national to trial may end an impasse Costa Rica has faced since deciding two years ago to expel Koziy.
Koziy has exhausted legal and administrative appeals against his expulsion, but Costa Rica has not been able to remove him because no country has been willing to accept him.
“We are hopeful that this important step will finally bring about the criminal prosecution of a heartless murderer who killed numerous innocent civilians, including women and a 3-year-old child” during the war, Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office and its chief Nazi-hunter, said in a statement.
“The fact that considerable time has passed since those crimes were committed in no way diminishes their severity and the importance of bringing such killers to justice,” he added.
The news cheered Costa Rica’s Jewish community of about 2,500, which is mainly of Polish descent and which for years has hoped to see Koziy expelled.
Attorney Harry Wohlstein, a leader of Jewish communal efforts to deport Koziy, said he welcomed Poland’s move. Given Costa Rica’s desire to expel Koziy, the extradition process should be speedy, Wohlstein said.
In 1982, Koziy, the owner of a Florida motel, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship for lying about his wartime activities, which included committing atrocities against Jews.
The U.S. Justice Department obtained a court order to deport him in 1984, but he fled the country.
Zuroff, then an investigator for the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, had taken part in the investigation that led to the revocation of Koziy’s U.S. citizenship.
Koziy has denied all the war crimes charges against him, saying he did not collaborate with the Nazis but was a resistance fighter.
The U.S. court, however, found that Koziy served as a member of the Ukrainian police. His service was in an area that was part of Poland until Nazi Germany invaded in 1939, which is why Poland plans to prosecute him for allegedly committing war crimes there.
After losing his U.S. citizenship, Koziy and his wife came to Costa Rica in 1985. She obtained legal residence, which allowed Koziy to remain in the country as his wife’s dependant.
Koziy avoided trial in 1987, when then-President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate blocked his extradition to the Soviet Union under pressure from Catholic Archbishop Roman Arrieta.
Soviet officials had hoped to put Koziy on trial for the wartime killing of a Jewish family and the killing of a child.
Koziy effectively turned his extradition proceedings into a trial of Soviet communism, playing on suspicion of growing Soviet influence in the region and enabling him to win a last-minute reprieve from extradition.
In 1994, the World Jewish Congress renewed efforts to bring Koziy to justice, pressuring Costa Rica to expel him.
The administration of then-President Jose Maria Figueres balked. But Figueres’ successor, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, took the symbolic step of ordering Koziy’s ouster.
Since the extradition battle with the Soviet Union, Koziy has ducked the limelight and refused to speak to reporters.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukrainian officials have shown no interest in bringing him to trial.
International Jewish organizations long have cited Koziy’s case as an anomaly in relations between Costa Rica and the Jewish world.
Costa Rica declared war on Nazi Germany before the United States did and has traditionally been one of Israel’s closest allies. Costa Rica is one of only two countries to keep its Israeli Embassy in Jerusalem.
No other war crimes suspects are known to be in Costa Rica.