CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s highest court ruled Wednesday that a 90-year-old Australian citizen cannot be extradited to Hungary to face accusations he tortured and killed a Jewish teenager during World War II.
The High Court upheld an earlier Federal Court decision that stopped the government from extraditing former Hungarian soldier Charles Zentai to face possible war crimes charges, arguing that those charges did not exist at the time of the slaying.
Hungary says Zentai is suspected of beating the teen to death in Budapest in 1944 for failing to wear a star identifying him as a Jew. Zentai, who migrated to Australia in 1950 and later became a citizen, has denied the allegation and has been fighting extradition since 2005.
Last year, the Federal Court found that because the offense of “war crime” was not on Hungary’s statute books when the teenager died in 1944, it was not an offense for which Zentai may be surrendered under Australia’s extradition treaty with Hungary.
The government appealed, but on Wednesday, the High Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare confirmed in a statement that the ruling means Zentai cannot be extradited.
Zentai’s son, Ernie Steiner, has argued that his father — who has been free on bail — is too ill to survive the trip to Hungary.
Zentai told reporters in the western city of Perth on Wednesday that he was prepared to supply answers if Hungary sent investigators to Australia to question him.
“I’ve been so stressed, in the last few days in particular. Now, I just don’t know how I feel,” Zentai said.
Steiner said his father was innocent and was not even in Budapest when the teen died.
Zentai is listed by the Nazi-hunting, U.S.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center among its 10 most wanted for having “participated in manhunts, persecution, and murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.