SYDNEY, Australia (Apr. 27)
Hungary has requested that Australia extradite an 83-year-old man wanted for the World War II-era murder of a Jewish teenager. Charles Zentai, 83, who lives in Perth, was a soldier in the Hungarian army in November 1944 when he is alleged to have arrested Peter Balozs, 18, for not wearing the yellow Star of David, and then beating him to death in his Budapest army barracks.
Zentai also has been accused of dumping Balozs’ body into the Danube River.
Zentai is alleged to have been one of three soldiers involved in the murder.
The Deputy Head of Mission at the Hungarian Embassy in Australia told media that a request for the extradition by Hungarian Justice Minister Jozsef Petretei had been handed to the Australian Foreign Ministry. Bela Bozsik added, “We take the case very seriously.”
Zentai’s exposure followed a campaign named Operation Last Chance. Launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the campaign offers rewards in return for information on suspected Nazi war criminals.
A spokesman for the Australian justice minister, Chris Ellison, confirmed to JTA that the request for extradition from Hungary had been made and that an investigation was under way.
Ellison added, “The extradition request is related to World War II criminal activities and we are taking it very seriously. It is being considered under the terms of the extradition treaty we have with Hungary.”
He told JTA that the Australian Federal Police would report on its investigation to the attorney general’s department, which would submit the information to the justice minister. Zentai would have the chance to make his case to the attorney general.
Once the justice minister receives the submission he will assess it. Should he decide to proceed, the information will be handed to a magistrate, who will make the final decision on whether to enforce Zentai’s extradition.
Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, added, “We anticipate that the Australian authorities will do all they can to expedite the Hungarian request.”
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, told JTA that he feels “deep satisfaction” about the extradition request having been submitted. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the severity of the crimes committed during the Holocaust,” he said. “This request creates an excellent opportunity for Australia to take successful legal action for the first time against a Nazi war criminal who was able to gain entry to its shores. Hungary has taken all the necessary steps. Now it’s up to Australia to complete the process.”
Zentai was known in Hungary as Karoly Steiner. If extradited, he will be charged with murder. The death sentence was abolished in Hungary in 1990.