Europe

Germany drops probe of 96-year-old Nazi suspect deemed unfit for trial

Michael Karkoc is accused of serving as commander of a Nazi SS unit. (Haaretz)

Michael Karkoc is accused of serving as commander of a Nazi SS unit. (Haaretz)

German prosecutors have shelved their Nazi war crimes investigation of a retired Minnesota carpenter whom The Associated Press exposed as a former commander in an SS-led unit, saying Friday that the 96-year-old is not fit for trial.

Munich prosecutor Peter Preuss told the AP that Michael Karkoc's attorney had refused to allow him to be examined by a medical expert from Germany, and that his office's decision was instead based on "comprehensive medical documentation" from doctors at the geriatric hospital in the U.S. where he is being treated.

He said doctors there had provided prosecutors with a comprehensive evaluation of Karkoc's health over the past year, which was evaluated by a medical expert in Germany.

"There are no doubts about the authenticity of the documentation of his treatment," Preuss said.

"There are no doubts about the authenticity of the documentation of his treatment."

- German prosecutor

The German investigation began after the AP published a story in 2013 establishing that Karkoc commanded a unit in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defence Legion accused of burning villages filled with women and children, then lied to American immigration officials to get into the United States a few years after World War II.

A second report uncovered evidence that Karkoc himself ordered his men in 1944 to attack a Polish village in which dozens of civilians were killed, contradicting statements from his family that he was never at the scene.

Karkoc's family, who live in Minneapolis, have denied he was involved in any war crimes.

The German investigation has taken longer than usual, because prosecutors first had to wait for a court ruling that they had jurisdiction in the case.

That came last year, when the Federal Court of Justice said Karkoc's service in the SS-led unit made him the "holder of a German office."

That gave Germany the legal right to prosecute him even though he is not German, his alleged crimes were against non-Germans and they were not committed on German soil.

Someone in that role "served the purposes of the Nazi state's world view," the court said.

When cases in Germany are shelved they can be reopened at any time if circumstances change, but in this case Preuss said that is very unlikely.