PRAGUE (Reuters) - A Slovak court has commuted a death sentence imposed on a Hungarian World War Two criminal to life imprisonment although he remains under house arrest in his native country, the prosecution said on Thursday.
Laszlo Csatary, 98, was found guilty in absentia in 1948 of whipping or torturing Jews and helping to deport them to the Auschwitz death camp when he served as police commander in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice.
He was sentenced to death and lived on the run for decades until Hungarian authorities detained him and put him under house arrest in Budapest in July last year.
He has denied any guilt.
The sentence was changed to be in line with modern Slovak law. Czechoslovakia abolished the death penalty in 1990, three years before its division into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Kosice prosecutor’s office spokesman Milan Filicko said.
“Once the decision takes effect, the court will decide whether it will issue an arrest warrant or how it will get him to serve the sentence,” he said.
He said Csatary could appeal the decision, which would send the case to the Slovak High Court.
Slovakia’s Jewish community has called for Csatary to be extradited.
Hungarian prosecutors told Reuters three weeks ago that Csatary’s house arrest had been extended until May 18 and the deadline for the ongoing investigation was April 22, which could be extended if necessary.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said last year it had provided Hungary with evidence that Csatary helped to organize the deportation of around 16,000 Jews to Auschwitz in Poland.
The transports came from Kosice, the eastern Slovak capital which became part of Hungary in 1938 and was returned to Czechoslovakia after the end of the war.
According to a Czechoslovak court ruling from June 8, 1948, Csatary was found guilty of deportations to Nazi death camps, and unlawfully whipping, torturing or killing people in 1944.
Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Angus MacSwan