SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – In a landmark decision, the Australian government approved the extradition to Hungary of an alleged Nazi war criminal.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said Thursday he was satisfied that 88-year-old Perth resident Charles (Karoly) Zentai could be surrendered to Hungarian authorities, who wish to question him about the murder of an 18-year-old Jew in 1944.
Zentai, who has been imprisoned in Perth since Oct. 22, is the first alleged Nazi war criminal Australia has agreed to extradite. He vehemently denies the accusation, saying he was not even in Budapest at the time of the murder of Peter Balazs, who was caught not wearing the yellow Star of David and later found dead in the Danube.
In a statement, O’Connor said: “My decision is not one of determining Mr. Zentai’s guilt or innocence. It was about deciding whether or not Mr. Zentai should be surrendered to Hungary in accordance with Australia’s extradition legislation and its international obligations.”
Zentai, who immigrated to Australia in 1950, will appeal the decision in the Federal Court, further extending the legal case that began in 2005 when Zentai was flushed out by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Operation Last Chance.
“It’s important to remember that the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the murderers in the Holocaust,” the Wiesenthal Center’s Efraim Zuroff told The Associated Press. “The victims of the Nazis and their collaborators are just as worthy today that their killers be brought to justice as they were when the crimes were committed.”
Hungary has two months to complete the extradition.