SYDNEY – An 87-year-old man accused of killing a Jewish teenager in Hungary during World War II asked an Australian court on Tuesday to prevent his extradition to Hungary, and claimed the results of a lie detector test prove he had nothing to do with the death.
Charles 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."
Magistrate Barbara Lane of Perth Magistrates Court in Western Australia state ruled in August that Zentai could be extradited to Hungary to face war crimes charges. On Tuesday, Zentai's lawyers appealed the decision in federal court, arguing the war crime he is accused of was not an offense under Hungarian law at the time it was allegedly committed.
If Lane's decision is upheld, Australia's federal government will make the final determination on whether Zentai should be extradited.
Hungary accuses him 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, denies the allegations.
In Perth Federal Court on Tuesday, Zentai's lawyer, Grant Donaldson, argued that Zentai cannot be extradited to face war crimes charges because murder was not considered a war crime under Hungarian law in 1944.
"This offense simply was not an offense at that time," Donaldson said. "If Zentai had been accused of murder and the extradition was sought on those grounds at the time, the problem would not have arisen."
But prosecutor Stephen Owen-Conway pointed to several other court rulings that he said prove Lane did not have to take into account whether Zentai's alleged offense was a crime at the time in her ruling.
Zentai told reporters outside court the results of a lie detector test he took last week prove his innocence.
"I had nothing to hide," he said of the test. "I just want justice."
Australian Polygraph Services examiner Gavin Willson, who conducted the test on Zentai, told The Associated Press he is convinced Zentai is telling the truth.
Willson said Zentai signed a statement in which he denied killing Balazs, disposing of his body or having any involvement in his death. Willson then asked Zentai if all the information on the statement was true, and Zentai said yes. The polygraph showed no deception in Zentai's answer, Willson said, adding the test is 97 percent accurate.
"I will say with 97 percent certainty that he was telling the truth," Willson told the AP. "But my gut feeling after speaking to him and spending quite a few hours with him and him being very, very candid on every single question that I asked, I had no doubt at all in my mind."
Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi hunter and the man who tracked down Zentai, dismissed the polygraph results as unreliable and said the evidence against him is overwhelming.
"If he's innocent, let him prove his innocence in a court of law," Zuroff told the AP by telephone from Jerusalem. "All these legal shenanigans ... are the behavior of a person who has something to hide — not of a person that is absolutely certain that he has nothing to be ashamed of."
Polygraph tests are generally not accepted in Australian courts because of questions about their accuracy.
Zentai's son, Ernie Steiner, said if Tuesday's appeal failed to reverse Lane's ruling, Zentai would appeal the case to a higher court.