Hungary accuses ex-Canadian citizen, 98, of Nazi-era war crimes against Jews

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BUDAPEST, Hungary - Hungarian prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 98-year-old former police officer, who was stripped of his Canadian citizenship, with torturing Jews and assisting in their deportation to Nazi death camps.

Laszlo Csatary, who lived for years in Montreal, was chief of an internment camp for 12,000 Jews at a brick factory in Kosice — a Slovak city then part of Hungary — in May 1944, they said.

He is accused of beating and whipping his victims, and of refusing to allow ventilation holes to be cut into the walls of a railcar crammed with 80 Jews being deported.

Csatary "wilfully assisted in the unlawful execution and torture of the Jews deported from (Kosice) to concentration camps in territories occupied by the Germans," the prosecution said in a statement.

Csatary, who has denied the charges, was detained by Hungarian authorities in July 2012 after his case was made public by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish organization active in hunting down Nazis who have yet to be brought to justice.

Csatary was initially convicted in absentia for war crimes in Slovakia in 1948 and sentenced to death.

He arrived in Halifax the following year, became a Canadian citizen in 1955. He worked as an art dealer in Montreal.

In 1997, Csatary who went by the name Ladislaus Csizsik-Csatary, quietly left Canada as authorities prepared to serve him notice of a deportation hearing at his home in Toronto.

Federal cabinet had revoked his citizenship on the basis he had lied about his past when he came to Canada, telling authorities he was a Yugoslav national.

Hungarian authorities said in the new war-crimes indictment that Csatary beat Jews with his bare hands and a dog whip during the Second World War.

Bettina Bagoly, spokeswoman for the Budapest Investigative Prosecutors Office, told The Associated Press that since Csatary has been charged with war crimes, the case is considered to be of special importance and the first session of the trial must be held within three months.

Bagoly also said the prosecution has asked the court to tighten the conditions of Csatary's house arrest, which were loosened by a judge in April.

Holocaust survivor Edita Salamonova, whose family was killed in the Auschwitz death camp after their deportation from Kosice, said she remembered Csatary well.

"I can see him in front of me," Salamonova said in an interview in Kosice last year. "A tall, handsome man but with a heart of stone."

Salamonova remembered Csatary's presence at the brick factory, which has since been torn down, and would make sure to keep out of his sight when he was around.

"One had to hide. You never knew what could have happened anytime," said Salamonova, who was able to return home after enduring several Nazi camps.

Though Csatary is currently expected to go on trial in Hungary, it is also possible that he could be extradited to Slovakia, where he was convicted in absentia in 1948.

In January, a court in Kosice changed the sentence in that case from death to life in prison, since the death penalty is banned in the European Union. That could open the way for his extradition.

Bagoly said prosecutors, who requested information in the case from Slovakia, Canada and Israel, had not yet received an extradition request from Slovakia.

Lucia Kollarova, a spokeswoman for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, said they wanted Csatary to go to prison in Slovakia.

"We would prefer the war criminal Laszlo Csatary to be extradited to Slovakia," Kollarova said. "We don't believe that given his age there is a realistic chance" he would be imprisoned in Hungary.

Marcela Galova, a spokeswoman for the regional court in Kosice, told the AP that a public hearing would be held July 19 to determine where Csatary would serve his life sentence.

Gabor Horvath B., who was appointed by the state to defend Csatary, told the AP that his client was in "satisfactory" health and that he expected the trial to go ahead in Hungary.

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office, who brought Csatary to the attention of Hungarian officials, said he planned to attend the trial.

"We welcome the indictment and call upon authorities to expedite the trial in light of the defendant's advanced age," Zuroff said by telephone from Israel. "This is a very strong reminder of the importance of achieving justice even many years after the crimes were committed."

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_ With files from The Canadian Press.

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