AM - Saturday, 9 July , 2005 08:16:00

ABC Online

AM - Alleged war criminal arrested in Perth

Reporter: David Weber


A ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Federal Government has started the process of the extradition of an accused war criminal living in Perth. 83-year-old Charles Zentai was arrested by Federal Police and appeared in Perth's Magistrate's court last night.

Mr Zentai is wanted in Hungary for the murder in of a young Jewish man in Budapest in 1944. But, the pensioner says he's innocent, as David Weber reports.

DAVID WEBER: Hungarian officials started an investigation earlier this year, after receiving information from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which investigates Nazi war crimes.

The Centre has claimed that Mr Zentai and two others tortured and murdered a Jewish man and threw his body into the river. Mr Zentai has claimed he was not even in Budapest at the time. But the Hungarian Government has now obtained a provisional warrant.

As Mr Zentai's lawyer Michael Bowden explained, this is only the first step.

MICHAEL BOWDEN: The next step is for him to be brought before the court, the court will then decide whether or not he's eligible for surrender, it then goes back to the minister to determine whether or not he will in fact be surrendered.

It is likely to take some considerable period of time, the extradition will be challenged on a number of bases, not only the legal and formal requirements, but also the manner in which the original evidence they're relying on was obtained.

DAVID WEBER: Mr Zentai was given bail last night √ a rare thing in an extradition process. But Mr Bowden said Mr Zentai showed special circumstances.

MICHAEL BOWDEN: The age of Mr Zentai, of course he's 83, he's been in Australia for an excess of 50 years, he's known about this for some considerable period of time and obviously doesn't represent a flight risk, as the magistrate has found.

The matter is likely to take some time, it's very stressful for Mr Zentai and his family, as I'm sure you'll appreciate, other than that I really don't want to take the matter any further.

DAVID WEBER: Does he deny the allegations?

MICHAEL BOWDEN: There is no doubt that the allegations are denied.

DAVID WEBER: The Budapest military prosecutor's office issued an international arrest warrant in March, and an extradition request was made in April. But it took until yesterday for the Justice Minister Chris Ellison to make a decision.

CHRIS ELLISON: We had to ensure that the request was in the proper form for the Extradition Act, and I could not make my decision publicly known until the Hungarian Government had been advised, and we communicated my decision to the Hungarian authorities and the Australian Federal Police of course executed the warrant. I think that the best thing now is for the Court of Petty Sessions to deal with the matter.

DAVID WEBER: The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has welcomed the Minister's decision to start the process.

The Director of the Centre in Israel, Doctor Efraim Zuroff.

EFRAIM ZUROFF: On a day like this, I think that the family of Peter Balasz, who Mr Zentai is suspected of murdering in Budapest in November of 1944, this must be a very important milestone on the way to closure for them and their tragedy. But that tragedy is really like a microcosm of the tragedies suffered by so may families and so many communities during the Holocaust.

DAVID WEBER: Charles Zentai's actual extradition hearing in the Magistrates' Court is expected to start in the next few weeks.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: David Weber with that report.

THE ABC Online, July 9, 2005