Lithuania wants to try alleged war criminal


LONDON, Jan. 9, 2001 (JTA) – Lithuania plans to ask British officials to extradite a man accused of Nazi war crimes.

Anton Gecas, 85, is alleged to have killed Jews and other civilians when he was head of a special Nazi police unit in a part of Lithuania that is now in the former Soviet republic of Belarus.

More than 90 percent of Lithuania’s 250,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

The battalion that Gecas is alleged to have served in may have been responsible for the deaths of as many as 30,000 civilians.

The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center has said it is convinced that Gecas took part in the wartime killings of thousands of Jews in Lithuania and Belarus.

Gecas, who currently lives in the Scottish city of Edinburgh, denies committing war crimes, but he has already lost one important case related to the allegation.

In 1992, he sued Scottish Television for libel when a documentary claimed he was a platoon commander of the 12th Auxiliary Police Services Battalion in Lithuania during the war.

He lost the case. The judge said at the time he was “clearly satisfied” that Scottish Television was right to claim Gecas had “committed war crimes against innocent civilians.”

But Scottish authorities declined to prosecute Gecas for war crimes because they believed there was insufficient evidence to convict him in a criminal court. The standards of proof are higher in criminal court than in civil court, where the libel action took place.

Having first opened a case against Gecas in 1987, Lithuania reopened the file in February of last year after receiving new information from the U.S. Justice Department.

The Baltic state has not said when it would file for the extradition.

Lithuania’s announcement on Monday that it would seek the extradition comes only a day after a British television documentary alleged that up to 1,500 members of a Ukrainian SS unit were allowed into Britain after World War II.

After the documentary aired, Lord Janner, the head of the Holocaust Educational Trust, called on Home Secretary Jack Straw to open government archives on the subject.

“The British Government disgracefully let in up to 8,000 people from the Waffen SS in the 1940s, of whom 1,800 may still be around,” Janner told JTA.

Britain’s Home Office is currently considering Janner’s request.

Regarding the television documentary, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “The government takes very seriously any allegations that suspected war criminals are” living in the United Kingdom.

She said the Home Office had passed the allegations to the police for investigation.

Another alleged Nazi war criminal fled Britain last year when London began moves to deport him.

Konrad Kalejs, 87, had lived in Britain for about 18 months after having been deported from the United States in 1994 and Canada in 1997 because of his alleged war crimes.

He admits to being a member of Latvia’s wartime Arajs Kommando unit – a Nazi death squad – but says he fought against the Russians on the eastern front and did not kill Jews, Gypsies or Communists.

The militia is held directly responsible for the deaths of some 100,000 civilians, including 30,000 Jews, between 1941 and 1943.

U.S. and Jewish groups pressured Latvia to extradite Kalejs for trial after he was found by Nazi hunters in a retirement home in Britain in 1999.

Kalejs fled in January 2000 from Britain to Australia, where he has had citizenship since 1957.

Latvia is now seeking his extradition from Australia.

Recommended from JTA