Court orders Nazi's extradition

2001-05-29 12:53

Melbourne - An Australian court on Tuesday ordered the extradition of an 87-year-old former World War II concentration camp guard who faces life imprisonment in his native Latvia if convicted of Nazi war crimes.

Konrad Kalejs is accused of participating in a planned policy of torture and destruction of Jewish and Russian prisoners while he served the Nazis as commander of the guards at Salaspils camp near Riga from 1942 to 1943.

The frail, wheelchair-bound Australian citizen was taken into custody after Magistrate Lisa Hannan ruled him eligible for extradition on charges of genocide and war crimes brought by Latvian authorities.

But Kalejs, who has denied the allegations, was immediately released after his lawyers successfully appealed to a federal court for bail and filed an appeal against Hannan's ruling.

ÆFair trial impossibleÆ

His lawyer Gerard Lethbridge told reporters Kalejs suffered from dementia and cancer, was blind and nearly deaf and could neither remember the past nor follow what was happening. "It is therefore impossible for him to get a fair trial," he said.

Justice Susan Kenny ordered Kalejs to remain at a nursing home in Melbourne, surrender his passport and not travel to any points of international departure.

Jewish groups welcomed the magistrate's ruling, but said it was just a first step in the extradition process. "If Mr Kalejs is extradited it will be the first time that successful judicial action has been taken against a Nazi war criminal in this country," Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council Jamie Hymans said.

KalejsÆs past catches up with him

Kalejs, who acquired Australian citizenship in 1957 before going to North America, was deported from the United States in 1994 and Canada in 1997 after his past caught up with him.

He was later tracked by Nazi hunters to a nursing home in England and returned to Australia following deportation from Britain in early 2000.

Hannan was told during a two-week hearing Kalejs had enlisted in the German military during the Nazi occupation of Latvia and had voluntarily participated in the torture and destruction of civilians as part of a planned policy of racial cleansing.

Crown prosecutor Geoff Nettle, QC, said by commanding the camp's exterior guard unit between June 1942 and July 1943, Kalejs made it possible to kill prisoners as well as creating "the circumstances for the destruction of prisoners."

Jews ædetermined for destructionÆ

Kalejs had known that 300 Jews within the camp were "determined for destruction" and he was aware of the inhumane living conditions within the camp involving enforced hard labour, lack of food, clothing and heating.

Prisoners were forced to bathe in the frost and were then set upon by dogs. Under his instructions, Kalejs' guard unit shot dead at least six prisoners trying to escape, the prosecution said.

Another defence lawyer, Brian Walters, said allegations by Latvia were vague, confusing and did not make a clear connection between Kalejs' conduct and any alleged crimes at the camp.

He said Kalejs denied being present during any killings or wounding and he did not plan or organise the extermination of Jews or other Holocaust victims.

"It is not even alleged that Mr Kalejs ever went inside Salaspils camp," he said.

Under Australia's extradition law, Hannan was not required to judge Kalejs' guilt or innocence, but only whether his alleged actions constituted crimes under Australian law at the time Latvia's request was received in December 2000.

Moves have been under way to secure his extradition since late last year and he was arrested in Melbourne in December following the Latvian extradition request. - Sapa-AFP