Hungarian judge explains non-guilty verdict on war crimes suspect

10:19, July 20, 2011      

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Bela Varga, the judge who headed the judicial panel which decided a 97-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect not guilty explained on Tuesday the verdict the previous day.

It is highly unlikely that Kepiro, who was an official in the gendarmerie, knew about a series of secret massacres, conducted by the army on orders from the defense minister, said Varga.

Varga also found no evidence that any of his subordinates had participated in the killings, although Kepiro himself allegedly once told the media that they had participated in roundups to check identities.

The court also found that on the day in question, over 800 people were shot on the banks of the Danube and would have included the proprietors of the hotel where Kepiro lived, had he not intervened.

Kepiro, who lived in Argentina for most of the post-war years, returned to Hungary in 1996. He was charged with involvement in a massacre of civilians, many of whom were Jewish, in the Serbian city of Novi Sad on January 23, 1942, which Hungary occupied as an ally of the Nazi Germany.

In 1944, a Hungarian court sentenced him to 10-year imprisonment, but the verdict was rescinded after Germany occupied Hungary. In 1946, a post-war tribunal sentenced him to 14 years in absentia. The Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said it had found Kepiro in Hungary in 2006.

On Monday, the three-judge panel found Kepiro not guilty on all counts. Kepiro was taken to the court by an ambulance on Monday to hear the verdict, which has provoked protest from the center named after Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter.

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia's special prosecutor for war crimes were both present in the courtroom. Zuroff called the not guilty verdict "scandalous."

Ana Frankel, representative of the Wiesenthal center's office in Novi Sad said the verdict "was no surprise, coming from a society which is still not mature enough to face its past." The case was thought by many to be the last of the major Holocaust-related war-crimes trials.

The verdict is subject to appeal.

Source: Xinhua
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