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Hungarian Nazi war crime trial resumes

2011-05-19 17:40

Budapest - The trial of Hungarian Nazi war crime suspect Sandor Kepiro resumed on Thursday after physical and mental health checks showed the 97-year-old was fit enough to attend, even if extremely frail.

During the short hearing, Judge Bela Varga read out a statement dating back to 1948 by one of the soldiers - since deceased - whom Kepiro allegedly ordered to round up and shoot 30 people in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in 1942.

Kepiro, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, dismissed the statement as a "blatant lie", insisted he did not know the solider, named as Janos Nagy, and again denied any involvement in the killings.

Little information is available about Nagy, other than he was tried and sentenced to life for murder by a communist court in 1948.

The case against Kepiro rests almost exclusively on such written statements by soldiers who are now dead, as well as documents from a trial in 1942 in which Kepiro was found guilty in absentia.

Experts have argued that there were numerous errors and omissions in the translation of a number of those court documents, thus casting doubt on their reliability.

Deteriorating mental state

The Budapest court ruled that the latest trial could be resumed after medical examinations showed the defendant, while hard of hearing and very frail, was in full possession of his faculties.

"Sandor Kepiro's mental state is not impaired and he is able to understand and process information from outside," judge Varga said.

"Nevertheless, due to his advanced age, his mental state deteriorates rapidly after two sessions of 45 minutes," Varga said.

There would be three more days of hearings, with the next one scheduled for May 24, with a verdict expected on June 3, the judge explained.

Kepiro turned up in court on Thursday in a wheelchair and wearing a set of headphones that would enable him to hear the proceedings clearly.

He answered in the affirmative when the judge asked him whether he was able to hear and understand what had been said so far.

Facing life sentence

Kepiro - one of the last suspected Nazi war criminals to go on trial - is being tried in connection with a raid by Hungarian forces on Novi Sad between January 21 and 23 1942, in which more than 1 200 Jews and Serbs were murdered.

Specifically, he is charged, as head of one of the patrols involved in the raids, with having ordered the rounding up and execution of 36 people.

If found guilty, he could face a life sentence.

The former Hungarian gendarmerie officer was formerly number one on the list of wanted Nazi criminals by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.