SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Dec. 1)
Accused Nazi collaborator Bohdan Koziy died Sunday night of a stroke in Costa Rica, just nine days after Poland requested his extradition. He was 81.
News of Koziy’s death was received with somber disappointment by top Nazi hunters and Costa Rican Jewish leaders, who had been cheered by the prospect of seeing Koziy finally face trial after more than two decades of frustrated efforts to bring him to justice.
“This is an unfortunate turn of circumstances,” said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office and Koziy’s main pursuer since the early 1980s. “At the precise moment in which he was going to face charges, he died. He didn’t deserve to die without being prosecuted for his crimes.”
A spokeswoman at the public hospital in Alajuela, Costa Rica’s second largest city, said Koziy died shortly before midnight and was under police custody at the time of his death. He had been in and out of hospitals for most of the year.
“This leaves a really, really bitter taste,” said Mioses Flachler, of the local B’nai B’rith chapter and one of a team of local lawyers who have long-followed the case. “We could not extradite him, he died here and we couldn’t even question him. Justice was not done.”
The Polish Embassy here had no initial comment. Koziy’s case was the first-ever extradition request Poland had presented to Costa Rica.
Koziy was accused of having participated in a police force set up by Nazi occupiers in territory that belonged to prewar Poland and now lies in Ukraine.
He was indicted last month by a court in Katowice, Poland, at the request of prosecutor Ewa Koj, of Warsaw’s Institute of National Memory, on charges that he killed 15 people as a Nazi collaborator.
Koziy’s presence had long been an irritant to the local Jewish community of about 2,500, composed mostly of prewar migrants from Poland and their descendants. Though Costa Rica maintains its embassy in Israel in Jerusalem and declared war on Nazi Germany a day before the United States did, Koziy had long lived here with the knowledge of Costa Rican officials.
After the war, using a pseudonym and hiding his alleged wartime activities, Koziy had made his way to Florida, where he owned a motel.
He came to Costa Rica after the United States stripped him of his citizenship in 1982 and began deportation hearings against him in 1984.
After being stripped of his citizenship, Koziy disappeared from view until 1987, when he was discovered living in Costa Rica, where his wife had obtained legal residency. His status as her spouse allowed him to stay in the country but not leave or re-enter it. He lived in a comfortable home in the hills above Alajuela in an upper- middle-class neighborhood.
However, he returned to the public spotlight in 1987 when the Soviet Union asked Costa Rica to extradite him. Claiming that he had been an anti-Communist partisan during the war who fought against the Nazi occupation, Koziy enlisted the aid of the influential local Catholic Church, which went to bat for him in opposing his extradition to Moscow.
In 1989, then-Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, allowed Koziy to remain in the country because he did not believe Soviet promises that Koziy would not receive the death penalty.
The case was not revisited until 1994, when the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations took advantage of the end of the Cold War and began to press Costa Rica to rid itself of its only known resident war criminal.
It was not until 2000 that the minister of public security, Rogelio Ramos, issued an order that Koziy be expelled. That heightened the campaign to find a country to try Koziy, leading to last month’s extradition request from Poland.
In court documents over the past 20 years, Koziy had denied the charges against him, though he had refused to speak to foreign reporters since moving here. He spoke to local media only during the trial for his possible extradition to the Soviet Union to make teary-eyed denunciations of communism and to vow to commit suicide before going to Moscow.
Koziy’s death was seen as more frustrating because most observers believed he would have been extradited to Poland by mid-January.
“So many years fighting, and with people like Oscar Arias and the church defending him,” said Flachler, a leading member of the National Liberation Party, which counts Arias among its leading members.
Zuroff was quick to praise the current Costa Rican administration, including Ramos, who called Zuroff with the news of Koziy’s death.
The case against Koziy, given the large volumes of documentation from the denaturalization hearing in the United States, was considered one of the strongest against a living Nazi collaborator. However, the impunity in his case ought not to end the pursuit of living war criminals, Zuroff said.
“This is not the end of Nazi hunting by any stretch,” Zuroff said.
Zuroff claims 21 convictions of Nazi war criminals worldwide in the last three years alone.
However, Zuroff said Koziy’s death without trial represents a “frustrating setback.”