STOCKHOLM – A Swedish court ruled Thursday that a former neo-Nazi leader arrested in Sweden can be extradited to Poland, where he is suspected of being involved in the theft of the infamous Auschwitz sign.
The Stockholm district court said 34-year-old Anders Hogstrom can be handed over to Poland on condition that, if convicted, he would serve any prison sentence in Sweden. A prosecutor said Poland agreed to the deal.
Polish investigators suspect Hogstrom of incitement to commit theft of a cultural treasure in connection with the Dec. 18 theft of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at the former Nazi death camp.
They are seeking prison terms of up to 2 1/2 years for three Poles who confessed to stealing the sign and are investigating the role of two others.
The sign was recovered days after the theft.
Hogstrom has denied the allegations and will probably appeal the extradition ruling because he doesn't think he will get a fair hearing in Poland, his defense lawyer, Bjorn Sandin said.
Hogstrom told the court that one of the Polish suspects had contacted him after the theft and asked whether Hogstrom could help them sell the sign. Hogstrom said he informed Swedish authorities when he realized the sign had been stolen.
"I have no way committed a crime. On the contrary. I have made sure that this sign could be returned," he said.
Experts on Sweden's extreme-right say Hogstrom founded and led the Swedish neo-Nazi group National Socialist Front in the 1990s. However, he left the organization in 1999 after two of its members were convicted of a high-profile police murder, and became an active opponent of the extreme right, according to Expo, a research foundation.
"I have nothing to do with any Nazi organizations anymore," Hogstrom told the court. "This is an ideology I absolutely distance myself from."
He has given conflicting information to Swedish media about his alleged role in the theft.
The Aftonbladet newspaper 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.
Hogstrom had been detained on a European arrest warrant on Feb. 11.