(JTA) — Nazi hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff was acquitted by a Budapest court of libel charges leveled against him by an accused Hungarian Nazi war criminal.
Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was acquitted Tuesday by Judge Viktor Vadasz two days before his accuser, Dr. Sandor Kepiro, is scheduled to go on trial in Budapest Municipal Court. Kepiro is charged with being involved in the murder of more than1,200 Jews, Serbs and Gypsies during a raid by the wartime Hungarian Gendarmerie at Novi Sad in 1942.
Kepiro, 97, filed suit after Zuroff, the head of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, submitted documents to the Hungarian courts in 2006 regarding Kepiro’s alleged role in the murders of 1,246 civilians in Novi Sad. Most of the victims were taken to the Danube River and shot in January 1943.
Kepiro was found guilty of involvement twice — once by the pre-Nazi Hungarian courts, and again after the war, in 1946. By then he allegedly had fled via Austria to Argentina. He returned to Budapest in 1996, and Zuroff, who has been searching for Nazi war criminals under the Wiesenthal Center’s Operation Last Chance program, located him.
In his verdict, Vadasz noted that Zuroff had acted in good faith by first contacting the Hungarian prosecutors after discovering that Kepiro had returned to Hungary from Argentina before notifying the media.
"Needless to say, I am relieved to have been acquitted, but the most important issue is Kepiro’s guilt, which will be hopefully established by a criminal court in his trial which begins Thursday morning," Zuroff said in a statement. "This has been a long and frustrating process, which began in the summer of 2006, but I am hopeful that justice will finally be achieved. That is what the victims of the massacre in Novi Sad deserve and that is what I have been fighting for from the very beginning of this process."