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Suspected war criminal Charles Zentai escapes extradition from Australia

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(JTA) — Australia’s highest court has ruled not to extradite suspected war criminal Charles Zentai to his native Hungary.

The High Court on Wednesday dismissed a government appeal to return Zentai, 90, who denies the accusation that he murdered a Jewish teenager in Budapest in 1944. An Australian government spokesperson said that Zentai could not be extradited because back then, "the offense of ‘war crime’ did not exist under Hungarian law," The Australian reported.

Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, who tracked down Zentai, told JTA that the ruling not to extradite the alleged war criminal to Hungary is "a permanent stain on Australia’s record."

Hungary first requested Zentai’s extradition in 2005 for the offense of war crimes. He is accused of fatally assaulting Peter Balazs, 18, in November 1944 for not wearing a yellow Star of David. He and two fellow soldiers in the Hungarian army were accused of beating Balazs and then tossing his body into the Danube River. Zentai denies the charges.

The federal government approved Zentai’s extradition to Hungary in 2009, but the decision was overturned on appeal last year in the Federal Court. The government then sought the ruling of the justices of the nation’s highest court, who reserved their decision in March before dismissing the appeal Wednesday.

Zuroff, who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, said the ruling "means that the Australian effort to bring Holocaust-era war criminals to justice has not had a single success." He said the Australian justices had "ignored numerous international precedents" in which war criminals were extradited to stand trial for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity despite the fact that these criminal categories had not existed at the time of the crime.

The Australian court system has reviewed charges against three suspected Holocaust-era war criminals, none of whom were convicted. One, Konrads Kalejs, an alleged leader of Latvia’s notorious Arajs Kommando unit, accused of murdering thousands of Jews and gypsies in Riga in 1942-43, died in Australia in 2001 while awaiting a court decision on whether he should be extradited to his native Latvia.

Zentai is believed to be Australia’s last Nazi-era war crimes suspect. 

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