COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — An elderly Dane accused of being involved in the mass murder of Jews in Belarus during World War II will not be prosecuted, Danish authorities said Friday, saying they have “not found evidence he committed or took part in the killings.”
The probe had been “very thorough” but evidence against 91-year-old Helmuth Leif Rasmussen was “limited,” chief prosecutor Steen Bechmann Jacobsen said.
“To be prosecuted for participation in mass killings requires a closer connection to the crime itself. You do not prosecute a known burglar for lots of burglaries in a neighborhood simply because he was in the area at the time of break-ins. You need evidence,” he told The Associated Press.
“This is a very sad day,” said Ephraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. He said Rasmussen “must be happy, the relatives of the victims are not.”
In July 2015, Zuroff asked police to investigate the case after Denmark’s Justice Ministry had turned down a similar request saying it was not their matter. He believed there was a strong case against Rasmussen because of documents found by Danish historians that said he was in the inner circle of the camp run by the Waffen SS where 1,400 Jews died.
“To us (Rasmussen) was part of the operation. That should have been enough to convict him for accessory to murder, Zuroff told the AP.
Bechmann Jacobsen said the 15-month investigation included “pretty good” documents at the Danish National Archives that stores historic sources, but not enough evidence.
“We have the same requirements for evidence, whether the matter is one hour old or 73 years old,” he said, adding Rasmussen was in the camp from late 1942 to early 1943.
“We have thoroughly investigated the case but there is still no evidence that (Rasmussen) committed a specific crime for which he hasn’t already been convicted,” said Bechmann Jacobsen, adding Rasmussen had, among others, been investigated for war crimes under Danish law.
After the war, Rasmussen was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for having served as a soldier for Nazi Germany.
Now known by the name Rasboel, Rasmussen has acknowledged being among the 6,000 Danish volunteers who joined the Waffen SS after Germany invaded the Scandinavian country in 1940. Rasmussen, who was not available for comment Friday, has vehemently denied involvement in the killings.
One of the authors of the book “En skole i vold” (A Book of Violence), Dennis Larsen, says Rasmussen admitted seeing Jews being killed and thrown into mass graves.
“But he always said he was a bystander,” Larsen earlier told the AP.
Bechmann Jacobsen added that another Dane who now holds a Swedish passport and who was at the camp at the same time as Rasmussen won’t be prosecuted either for the same reasons.
Rasmussen, the Swedish national and the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center were informed of the decision Wednesday and Thursday.
Zuroff said he was “strongly considering an appeal” of the decision to Denmark’s top prosecutor.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.