Latvia War Crimes Suspect Seized
RIGA, Latvia (AP) _ A Nazi war crimes suspect from Latvia was arrested in Australia on Wednesday after prosecutors in his native country requested his extradition on genocide charges.
The extradition request for Konrads Kalejs came nearly a year after prosecutors launched an investigation. They claim the 87-year-old took part in the massacre of Jews during the 1941-44 occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany.
Kalejs formally was accused last September of being a guard at the Salaspils concentration camp near Riga, where Jews and Russian prisoners of war were executed, tortured or died of malnutrition.
Kalejs, who emigrated to Australia after the war, has denied the charges. Defense lawyers claim he suffers from prostate cancer and dementia and is too sick to travel to Riga to stand trial.
Police arrested Kalejs at his home in the southern Australian city of Melbourne after a magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of genocide and war crimes, Australian Justice Minister Amanda Vanstone said.
Kalejs appeared briefly in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court and was released on bail on condition he surrender his passport and not attempt to leave Australia. He is to appear again Jan. 25 for an extradition hearing, a spokesman for Vanstone said.
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, called it a ``positive step toward bringing this Holocaust perpetrator to justice,″ but stressed the importance of the next steps.
``The real victory will come on the day he is put on trial in Riga. Only that will have an effect on people coming to terms with the Holocaust. Otherwise, people won’t understand what this is all about,″ he said.
Some 80,000 Jews were murdered in Latvia during the Nazi occupation, with Latvians as well as Germans taking part in the killings.
Prosecutors in Riga also warned that the process could be drawn out.
``It’s important for Latvia to move forward and demonstrate willingness to prosecute Nazi war criminals,″ human rights lawyer Nils Muzinieks said. ``But it’s dangerous to raise expectations, to expect he’ll be in the dock soon and that Latvia can quickly try him and move on.″
Kalejs was deported from the United States and Canada in the 1990s for lying about his Nazi past. He returned to his adopted country, Australia, in January after Nazi hunters found him in a retirement home in England.
Kalejs would be the first suspected Nazi collaborator tried in Latvia since the country regained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.