April 27, 2005 - 10:35PM smh.com.au
Extradition request for alleged Nazi

The Australian government is considering a request from Hungary to extradite an 86-year-old alleged Nazi war criminal accused of killing a Jewish teenager during World War II.

Hungary asked the Australian government last month to extradite Perth resident Charles Zentai, the country's ambassador to Australia Lajos Fodor said.

"We handed it over to the foreign ministry, this extradition in relation to Charles Zentai, and the Hungarian side is waiting for an answer from the Australian government," Mr Fodor said.

Mr Zentai, a former soldier in the Hungarian Army, has been accused by leading international Jewish human rights body, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, of killing an 18-year-old Jewish man in Hungary in 1944.

It claimed Mr Zentai murdered the Jewish man when he failed to wear a Star Of David as required in countries controlled by Nazi Germany during WW II.

Mr Zentai and two accomplices allegedly took the man to a barracks in Budapest and tortured and killed him before dumping him in the Danube River.

Mr Zentai is said to have fled to Australia while his two alleged accomplices were subsequently convicted and jailed.

He has denied the accusations and said in January he was prepared to travel to Hungary to clear his name.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison said the request was being examined to ensure it met the criteria of the extradition treaty.

"We have had an official request from the Hungarian government for the extradition of Mr Charles Zentai on suspected war crimes," Senator Ellison told reporters in Perth.

"That will be processed in accordance with our extradition laws.

"Of course Mr Zentai, like any person in Australia, has a presumption of innocence until proven guilty and of course that presumption of innocence must apply in this case."

Senator Ellison, who will make the final decision regarding extradition, said the request would be dealt with expeditiously.

"Should Mr Zentai be extradited, that is not any decision as to his guilt or otherwise and of course I can't pre-empt what my decision will be at this point in time," he said.

Mr Zentai's personal circumstances, such as his age, would considered, he added.

There has never been a successful extradition of an alleged Nazi war criminal from Australia.

But if the extradition request were successful, Mr Zentai may appeal the decision in the Federal Court.

Mr Zentai did not return AAP's calls.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre's chief Nazi hunter Dr Efraim Zuroff said Australian authorities should expedite legal action against Mr Zentai.

"The passage of time in no way diminishes the severity of the crimes committed during the Holocaust and the importance of holding the perpetrators of those crimes accountable," Dr Zuroff said in a statement from Jerusalem.

"The extradition request submitted by Hungary creates an excellent opportunity for Australia to take successful legal action for the first time against a Nazi war criminal."

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is assisting Hungarian authorities.

smh.com.au, April 27, 2005