SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – An alleged Nazi war criminal living in Australia has escaped extradition to his native Hungary.
Charles Zentai, 88, of Perth won a Federal Court ruling last Friday overturning the extradition order by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor on accusations that Zentai helped murder a Jewish teenager in 1944.
Peter Balasz, 18, was killed by a gang of three men in 1944 because he was a Jew; his body was thrown into the Danube River.
But Judge Neil McKerracher found that it would be "oppressive and incompatible with humanitarian considerations" to extradite the octogenarian Zentai, a great-grandfather.
Zentai, who has always maintained his innocence, said outside the court that he and his family had been "through hell" since the Simon Wiesenthal Center flushed his name out in Operation Last Chance in 2005.
The center’s Efraim Zuroff said in a statement last Friday that the Zentai case "shows a lack of understanding by the Australian judicial system of the urgency and importance of bringing suspected Holocaust criminals to justice."
"Contrary to today’s decision, Zentai’s age is totally irrelevant — no country in the world limits prosecution based solely on age — and the notion that he would be treated harshly in Hungary, a member in good standing of the European Union and NATO, is ludicrous," the statement said. "We urge the Hungarian and Australian authorities to take all possible measures to overturn today’s unfortunate decision.”
The Australian government has 28 days to appeal the decision. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the ruling would be examined carefully before any decision was made on an appeal.
Zentai arrived in Australia in 1950.