Australia, April 27 (JTA) — Hungary has requested that
an 83-year-old man wanted for the World War II-era murder
of a Jewish teenager.
Charles Zentai, 83, who lives in Perth, was a soldier in the Hungarian army
in November 1944 when he is alleged to have arrested Peter
Balozs, 18, for not wearing the yellow Star of David, and
then beating him to death in his Budapest army barracks.
Zentai also has been accused of dumping
Balozs’ body into the Danube River.
Zentai is alleged to have been one
of three soldiers involved in the murder.
The Deputy Head of Mission at the
Hungarian Embassy in Australia told media that a request
for the extradition by Hungarian Justice Minister Jozsef
Petretei had been handed to the Australian Foreign Ministry.
Bela Bozsik added, “We take the case very seriously.”
Zentai’s exposure followed a campaign
named Operation Last Chance. Launched by the Simon Wiesenthal
Center, the campaign offers rewards in return for information
on suspected Nazi war criminals.
A spokesman for the Australian justice
minister, Chris Ellison, confirmed to JTA that the request
for extradition from Hungary had been made and that an investigation
was under way.
Ellison added, “The extradition request
is related to World War II criminal activities and we are
taking it very seriously. It is being considered under the
terms of the extradition treaty we have with Hungary.”
He told JTA that the Australian Federal
Police would report on its investigation to the attorney
general’s department, which would submit the information
to the justice minister. Zentai would have the chance to
make his case to the attorney general.
Once the justice minister receives
the submission he will assess it. Should he decide to proceed,
the information will be handed to a magistrate, who will
make the final decision on whether to enforce Zentai’s extradition.
Colin Rubenstein, executive director
of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, added, “We
anticipate that the Australian authorities will do all they
can to expedite the Hungarian request.”
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, told JTA that
he feels “deep satisfaction” about the extradition request
having been submitted. “The passage of time in no way diminishes
the severity of the crimes committed during the Holocaust,”
he said. “This request creates an excellent opportunity for
Australia to take successful legal action for the first time
against a Nazi war criminal who was able to gain entry to
its shores. Hungary has taken all the necessary steps. Now
it’s up to Australia to complete the process.”
Zentai was known in Hungary as Karoly
Steiner. If extradited, he will be charged with murder. The
death sentence was abolished in Hungary in 1990.
April 27, 2005