Alleged war criminal Charles Zentai wins extradition appeal

AN 88-year-old Perth man wanted in Hungary for the alleged murder and torture of a Jewish teenager during World War II has successfully appealed his extradition.

Charles Zentai is suspected of being one of three Nazi-backed Hungarian soldiers who murdered Jewish teenager Peter Balazs in Budapest in November 1944.

Hungary issued an arrest warrant for Zentai, who lives in the southern Perth suburb of Willetton, in 2005.

The Federal Court today upheld Mr Zentai’s appeal, saying the home affairs minister’s extradition decision was beyond his jurisdiction.

Judge Neil McKerracher said war crime was not a qualifying extradition offence for which Mr Zentai could be surrendered for extradition.

Outside the court, Mr Zentai said the five-year legal process had put he and his family “through hell”. Mr Zentai said he could not describe how he felt, saying “it was something I’ve never felt before”.

The pensioner said the battle against his extradition had cost him his entire life savings.  “I have lost practically everything,” Mr Zentai said.  In November last year Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor ordered Mr Zentai to be extradited back to Hungary.

Mr Zentai’s son, Ernie Steiner, said Mr O’Connor was poorly advised, adding his department now has a “lot to answer for”.  “They were so keen to represent the interests of Hungary they forgot about the fact they had an Australian citizen that was being unfairly treated,” Mr Steiner said.  “They should have looked at the detail and they didn’t.

“My father has suffered a huge injustice.”

Judge McKerracher also found the minister failed to properly consider that it would be “oppressive and incompatible with humanitarian considerations” to surrender Mr Zentai for extradition due to his age, ill health and the severity of sentence he faced.

As the judgment was handed down, cries of joy from family members were heard throughout the court.

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