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300 Austrians Ask Investigation of Waldheim

March 2, 1988

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ A group of 300 Austrians has asked state prosecutors to investigate whether President Kurt Waldheim can be prosecuted on suspicion of murder, a spokesman for the group said today.

A petition asking that Waldheim be prosecuted in connection with his World War II service as an officer in the Nazi army has been circulating among intellectuals and at anti-Waldheim demonstrations for the past three weeks.

The left-wing Vienna magazine Falter today published the text of the complaint, which it said was signed by 300 people, including two prominent writers - Robert Jungk and Erich Fried.

Walter Oswalt, a journalist and spokesman for the group, said the complaint was sent to the Vienna state prosecutor’s office by registered mail and was delivered this morning.

Later, Waldheim asked state prosecutors to sue Falter on grounds of defamation and asked that it be removed from newsstands, the president’s spokesman, Gerold Christian, said.

Waldheim has initiated four other similar suits, including one against the West German news magazine Der Spiegel, which published a document last month purportedly linking Waldheim to the deportation of civilians to prison camps in 1944. The magazine later said the document was a forgery and apologized for publishing it.

A spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office said privacy laws prevent the office confirming the receipt of the Austrian group’s complaint.

The complaint quoted extensively from a historians’ report on Waldheim’s wartime service, published Feb. 9, and from other material to back its request for an investigation of Waldheim on suspicion of murder.

It cited an article in Austria’s criminal code saying that ″not only the direct perpetrator commits the punishable act, but also a person who persuades another person to commit it, or who otherwise contributes to its perpetration.″

The historians’ report concluded that Waldheim had concealed his record as a German army lieutenant in the Balkans during World War II. It also said he was in ″close proximity″ to some Nazi atrocities, knew about them and did nothing to prevent them.

Christian, asked for a reaction to the complaint, said only that legal proceedings were constitutionally impossible.

Under Article 63 of the Austrian constitution, a president can be prosecuted only if both houses of Austria’s parliament agree to it.

Waldheim has said the report exonerates him from accusations linking him to war crimes, but the historians left open the question of guilt.

Waldheim has consistently denied any links with alleged war crimes and has insisted he will stay in office despite increasing pressure to resign. He was elected to a six-year term in June 1986, three months after his service in the Balkans was first disclosed.

The U.S. Justice Department has barred Waldheim from the United States as an undesirable alien.

The Israeli member of the historians’ commission, Yehuda L. Wallach, has said the report could serve as a basis for an investigation of whether Waldheim could be prosecuted.

The West German historian on the panel, Manfred Messerschmidt said in an interview published Feb. 25 in the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that legal steps could be considered over Waldheim’s role in the fate of British commandos executed in Greece in 1944.

Last month, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered a renewed investigation into that episode by British authorities.

Parts of Messerschmidt’s interview were quoted in the text of the complaint against Waldheim.

Messerschmidt said in connection with the 1944 episode, ″I think that from the point of view of penal law, one could think about whether this was not assistance″ in murder.

Justice Ministry spokesman Gerhard Litzka said that, under Austrian law, the state prosecutors’ office is bound to examine such a complaint and to deliver a recommendation to the Justice Ministry on whether or not to open legal proceedings.

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