World News

Australian says he's not guilty of war crimes

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An Australian citizen accused of Nazi warcrimes in Hungary in 1944 has appeared on Australian television to say he is innocent.

Hungarian-born Charles Zentai, 87, who migrated to Australia in 1950, is wanted in Hungary over the fatal beating of Jewish teenager Peter Balazs in Budapest in November 1944.

“I’m innocent of that accusation,” Zentai told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

“As a soldier I just had to carry out orders and, but none of those orders I was given had anything to do with rounding up Jews or torturing them or anything like that,” he added.

At the time Zentai was a 23-year-old warrant officer in the pro-Nazi Hungarian military, but argues he left Budapest with his regiment the day before the murder.

Hungary formally applied for Zentai’s extradition in March 2005, and he was arrested by Australian police in July that year, starting a long running legal challenge against moves to send him to Budapest to face trial.

Under Australian law, a person facing overseas charges on war crimes must first face a committal hearing before an Australian magistrate to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant extradition.

Zentai challenged those laws in Australia’s High Court, which dismissed his case last month and ruled the committal hearing could proceed before a magistrate in the Western Australia state capital of Perth.

The Perth Magistrate’s Court on Monday said the case would be heard in August.

Zentai’s family has argued their father, a retired mental health nurse, would not survive extradition due to frail health, and that evidence obtained in 1947, from two other men who were convicted of the crime, was obtained through duress and torture.

Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani