Hungary charges war crimes suspect

Hungarian prosecutors say they have taken into custody and charged with war crimes a man suspected of taking part in the deportation of Jews in 1944.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre said Laszlo Csatary was a police officer in the Slovakian city of Kosice - part of Hungary at the time - when Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, and that he was present when the trains were loaded and sent on their way.

Csatary's lawyer, Gabor Horvath B, said that a judge, acting on a request from prosecutors, ordered his client to be confined to house arrest for a maximum of 30 days.Mr Horvath B. said he had appealed against the ruling, which also opened the way for authorities to confiscate Csatary's passport.

Prosecutors said that considering Csatary's age, he is in a good physical and mental state. They are charging Csatary with the unlawful torture of human beings, a war crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Tibor Ibolya, Budapest's acting chief prosecutor, said Csatary recounted his Holocaust-era activities to authorities, saying he was following orders and carrying out his duty.

"The suspect denied having committed the crimes," Mr Ibolya said, adding that during his testimony Csatary's "attitude toward some of his fellow men of a certain religion ... is not what we would consider normal".

According to a summary of the case released by prosecutors, in May 1944, Csatary was named chief of an internment camp at a Kosice brick factory from where 12,000 Jews were deported to the death camps.

Csatary was convicted in absentia for war crimes in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and sentenced to death. He arrived in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia the following year, became a Canadian citizen in 1955 and worked as an art dealer in Montreal.

In October 1997, Canadian authorities said the then 82-year-old had left the country, apparently bound for Europe, before they had the chance to decide his fate in a deportation hearing. His citizenship had been revoked in August and the deportation order was based on his obtaining citizenship by giving false information.

In Israel, Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office, applauded the arrest. "When you look at a person like this, you shouldn't see an old frail person, but think of a man who at the height of his physical powers devoted all his energy to murdering or persecuting and murdering innocent men, women and children."