SYDNEY, Australia – An 86-year-old man accused of killing a Jewish teenager in Hungary during World War II can be extradited to Hungary to face charges, an Australian judge found Wednesday.
Lawyers for former Hungarian soldier Charles Zentai said they will appeal the decision, handed down in Western Australia's Perth Magistrates Court. If it is upheld, Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus will make the final determination on whether Zentai should be extradited.
Zentai, an Australian citizen, is listed by the U.S.-based Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center among its 10 most wanted Nazis as having "participated in manhunts, persecution, and murder of Jews in Budapest in 1944."
Hungary accuses Zentai of torturing and killing 18-year-old Peter Balazs in a Budapest army barracks on Nov. 8, 1944, for failing to wear a star that would identify him as a Jew.
Zentai, who emigrated to Australia in 1950, has denied the allegations.
"We're very pleased with the decision by the magistrate in Perth," said Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter and the man who tracked down Zentai. "We hope people will now focus on the family of the murdered teenager and the fact that it is finally possible to pursue justice in this case."
Zuroff said he discovered Zentai's whereabouts in early 2005 and hoped Australian officials would not delay extradition.
"We are hopeful that (Debus) will keep in mind the need for justice," Zuroff told The Associated Press by telephone from Jerusalem. "The passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers."
On Wednesday, Magistrate Barbara Lane said Zentai's case and circumstances met the requirements of the Australian Extradition Act and the Extradition Treaty between Australia and the Republic of Hungary.
"I determine that Mr. Zentai is eligible for surrender to the Republic of Hungary ... and therefore he is remanded in custody," Lane said.
Zentai was later granted bail on the condition that he surrender his passports and not go within 100 yards of Perth airport departure areas.
Outside court, one of Zentai's sons, Gabriel Steiner, said justice could never be served by persecuting the innocent.
"They got the wrong man," he said.
Debus, the home affairs minister, said he would consider all material at a later date before making a decision on extradition.
"As the matter's still before the court, it's not appropriate for me to comment at this stage," Debus said.