Minister decides – Zentai to be extradited

November 12, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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Charles Zentai, the 88-yr-old Perth man accused of murdering a Jewish youth in 1944 in Budapest, is to be extradited to his native Hungary for questioning.The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor has released the following statement:

Minister for Home Affairs Brendan O’Connor today determined that Mr Charles Zentai should be surrendered to the Republic of Hungary to face prosecution for a war crimes offence, which allegedly occurred in 1944.

“The Australian Government takes international crime cooperation and allegations of criminal conduct, including war crimes, seriously,” Mr O’Connor said.

“My decision is not one of determining Mr Zentai’s guilt or innocence. It was about deciding whether or not Mr Zentai should be surrendered to Hungary in accordance with Australia’s extradition legislation and its international obligations. These obligations reflect Australia’s crime cooperation responsibilities to other nations around the globe.

“The considered and methodical application of the Extradition Act ensures that Australia is not a haven for alleged criminals. It also ensures we cooperate effectively, on matters of justice, with countries around the world.” Mr O’Connor said.

The Minister made his determination under section 22 of Australia’s Extradition Act, taking into account the circumstances of the case, including representations made on behalf of Mr Zentai and representations by Hungarian authorities.

Subject to any legal challenge by Mr Zentai, Hungarian authorities have two months in which to escort Mr Zentai to Hungary.

In November 1944, Peter Balazs was pulled off a Budapest tram and dragged to a nearby army barracks where he was beaten to death. Three men were accused of murdering him. Karoly Steiner escaped Hungary and arrived in Australia in 1950. His name had been changed to Charles Zentai.

A warrant for his arrest was issued in Hungary shortly after the war.

paper ad2

Peter Balazs

Peter Balazs

Above left is an ad placed in a Budapest paper at the time of Balazs’s death by his father Dezso in a bid to find his missing son.

Zentai has not been charged. He is wanted by the Hungarian authorities for  questioning.

Zentai’s son told J-Wire he heard the news from media: “We found out about the decision from a Western Australian journalist. My father was contacted by the Attorney General’s Department and left a message on my phone which I did not get to in the midst of all the media attention until later. Mr Barich received an E-mail at 4:08 from the Attorney General’s Department while he was out of the office and by the time he returned the news was well and truly out. My father’s legal team has requested a copy of the Minister’s reasons for the decision.”

He issued the following statement

“We are very disappointed that the Minister did not place more reliance on the arguments and evidence contained in the submissions that were presented on behalf of my father. Mr O’Connor’s main concern was to demonstrate his responsibility to the Republic of Hungary at the expense of an Australian citizen of 50 years. Nevertheless he has left the way open for my father to have the decision reviewed by the Federal Court. This will be the first time that all the evidence including my father’s innocence, the corrupt, inconsistent evidence used against him and the inability of Hungary to guarantee a fair trial in the absence of living witnesses, will be presented to an Australian Court. My father was denied that opportunity in the last four years by the terms of the non-evidential extradition treaty with Hungary. This would not be the case for a similar situation in the USA, Austria or Israel which allow evidence to be submitted in defence of an accused person in his/her own country.”

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