Hungary Nazi war crimes suspect Laszlo Csatary detained
- 18 July 2012
- From the section Europe
Hungarian authorities have put a 97-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect, Laszlo Csatary, under house arrest.
He is number one on the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center's wanted list and is accused of assisting in the murder of 15,700 Jews.
Mr Csatary was taken in for questioning on Wednesday.
He has denied the accusations against him. State prosecutor Tibor Ibolya said: "One of his arguments in his defence is that he was obeying orders."
Mr Ibolya said Mr Csatary was accused of a "war crime committed by unlawful torture of human beings", which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
He said placing him under house arrest would enable authorities to confiscate his passport.
They said he was co-operating with investigators and that, considering his age, he was in good physical and mental health.
Earlier this week, reporters from the British newspaper the Sun found the former art dealer living in Budapest.
He was questioned on Wednesday by an investigative judge at the military prosecution's office in Budapest, before being put under house arrest for 30 days and released.
An AFP correspondent said he appeared and acted considerably younger than his 97 years when he emerged, wearing a grey jacket and carrying a plastic bag, to be picked up by two friends or relatives in a car.
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mr Csatary served as a senior Hungarian police officer in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice, then under Hungarian rule and called Kassa.
The city was the site of the first Jewish ghetto established on Hungarian territory, following the German occupation of the country, in 1944.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center accuses Mr Csatary of involvement in the deportation of 15,700 Jews from Kosice to the Auschwitz death camp.
Earlier, he allegedly played a key role in the deportation of about 300 Jews from Kosice to Kamenetz-Podolsk in Ukraine, where almost all were murdered, in the summer of 1941.
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi-hunter, urged the Hungarian authorities to prosecute Mr Csatary, saying: "The passage of time in no way diminishes his guilt and old age should not afford protection for Holocaust perpetrators."
However, others questioned the value of hounding a 97-year-old when proving his guilt would not be straightforward.
Laszlo Karsai, Hungary's pre-eminent Holocaust historian, and the son of a Holocaust survivor, told the BBC: "The money spent hunting down people like him would be better spent fighting the propaganda of those who so energetically deny the Holocaust today."
In 1948, a Czechoslovakian court condemned Mr Csatary to death in absentia.
After the war, Mr Csatary escaped to Canada where he worked as an art dealer in Montreal and Toronto. He disappeared in 1997 after he was stripped of his Canadian citizenship.
The Sun says it tracked him down with help from the Center, whose Operation Last Chance is aimed at bringing surviving Nazi war criminals to justice.
Last year, the Center alerted Hungarian authorities to his presence, giving them evidence it said implicated him in war crimes.