STOCKHOLM – A Polish court issued a European arrest warrant Tuesday for a former neo-Nazi leader suspected in the theft of the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at Auschwitz.
Rafal Lisak, spokesman for Krakow's district court, said 34-year-old Anders Hogstrom of Sweden is suspected of incitement to commit theft of a cultural treasure.
The sign — German for "Work Sets You Free" — was stolen in December from the site of the Nazis' former Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland. After a nationwide manhunt, Polish police found the sign in the woods three days later, cut into three pieces, and charged five Polish men with its theft.
Lisak did not give any further details, but Polish prosecutors have previously identified Hogstrom as the mastermind of the theft.
It was unclear whether Hogstrom had chosen a lawyer to represent him in the case, but a trustee who represented him in other legal matters, Goran Wahlstrom, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Hogstrom was innocent and the victim of false rumors in the Swedish press. He declined to elaborate.
In the 1990's, Hogstrom founded and led the Swedish neo-Nazi group National Socialist Front, according to experts on Sweden's extreme right. He later quit the group and spoke out against the extreme right movement.
Hogstrom has reportedly given conflicting information about his role in the theft. Tabloid Aftonbladet quoted Hogstrom as saying he was acting as a middleman between the Polish thieves and an English-speaking buyer. But in a video clip posted Jan. 9 on the Web site of another tabloid, Expressen, Hogstrom said he had simply been tipped off about the theft and tried to stop it.
The European arrest warrant is designed to speed up extradition within the European Union.
The Auschwitz sign is one of the most well-known slogans for Nazi Germany's atrocities during World War II and the Holocaust.
Between 1940 and 45 more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau or died of starvation or disease while forced to perform hard physical labor at the camp.