Australia's highest court blocks extradition of Nazi war crime suspect

Alleged WWII war criminal Charles Zentai (C) leaves an extradition proceeding on July 19, 2005.

Story highlights

  • Australia's highest court rejected extradition request from Hungary for suspected Nazi war criminal
  • Charles Zentai allegedly beat Jewish teen to death in 1944 for failing to wear Star of David
  • High Court ruled against request because "war crime" was not legal offence in Hungary in 1944
  • A naturalized Australian citizen, Zentai has maintained his innocence

Australia's High Court on Wednesday rejected an extradition request from Hungary for a suspected Nazi war criminal, ending a legal battle that began in 2005.

Charles Zentai and two fellow Hungarian soldiers allegedly beat a Jewish teenager to death in November 1944 for failing to wear the yellow Star of David. They are thought to have thrown the victim's body into the Danube River in the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

In a 5-1 decision, the court ruled that Zentai could not be extradited because "war crime" did not exist as a legal offence in Hungary in 1944, according to Australian media reports.

In doing so, it upheld a 2010 Australian federal court ruling against an extradition order approved by former home affairs minister Brendan O'Connor in 2009. Hungary issued an international arrest warrant and extradition request for Zentai in 2005.

Zentai, now 90, has maintained his innocence, arguing that he left Nazi-occupied Budapest before the crime occurred.

He was tracked down by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 2004 as part of the Jewish human rights organization's "Operation: Last Chance." As of April, he is listed among the organization's top ten most wanted Nazi criminals, for participating in "manhunts, persecution, and murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944."

A resident of Perth in Western Australia, he has reportedly been living in the country since 1950 and is a naturalized Australian citizen.

In 2010: War crimes suspect averts extradition from Australia