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Karoly Zentai moves to sue Australian government

SYDNEY (JTA) — Alleged Nazi war criminal Karoly “Charles” Zentai has paved the way for a damages suit against the Australian government for wrongful imprisonment.

Zentai, a 91-year-old pensioner living in Perth, filed a writ last week for unspecified damages inflicted while he was in prison against the federal minister for home affairs, the federal attorney-general and the chief executive of the Western Australia Department of Corrective Services.

Zentai was imprisoned in Western Australia for nearly two months in 2009.

Ernie Steiner, Zentai’s son, said that to keep the option of a lawsuit open, the writ had to be filed in the Supreme Court within three years of his father’s imprisonment.

Zentai was accused of committing a "war crime" when he allegedly killed an 18-year-old Jewish man in Hungary in 1944. He has denied the charges since his  2005 arrest by the Australian Federal Police after it was tipped off by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. 

Zentai won the long-running legal case earlier this year when the High Court of Australia dismissed an appeal by the federal government. The judges in Canberra upheld a Federal Court ruling that said Zentai could not be surrendered for an offense that did not exist under Hungarian law in 1944.

"My father was vilified, wrongfully arrested and imprisoned, was prevented from visiting his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and suffered enormous financial loss for nothing,” Steiner said.

But the Wiesenthal Center’s Efraim Zuroff said the fact that Zentai was not extradited did not prove his innocence.

"That issue has never been determined in a court of law," Zuroff said.

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