Zentai behind bars

October 23, 2009 by Henry Benjamin
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Charles Zentai, the 88-yr-old Perth resident wanted by Hungarian authorities for questioning over the 1944 murder of a Jewish youth in Budapest, is now in prison awaiting the Government’s extradition decision.

Charles Zentai

Charles Zentai

Yesterday marked the end of a 14 day stay of proceedings following the rejection of his appeal by the Federal Court in Perth against the extradition. Zentai presented himself to the Australian Federal Police and is now in Perth’s Hakea prison.

In November 1948, 18-yr-old Peter Balazs was spotted on a Budapest tram not wearing the mandatory yellow Star of David. He was pulled off the tram and taken to a nearby army barracks where he was beaten to death and his body dumped in the Danube. Balazs had official documentation stating he was living in Budapest under Swiss protection. Two men stood trial for the murder and a warrant was issued for Karoly Steiner who fled from Hungary to France, eventually arriving in Perth in 1950. He changed his name to Charles Zentai although his son Ernie still maintains the Steiner name.

Following submissions to the Hungarian Government in 2004 by the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a request for Zentai’s extradition was made by the Hungarian Government to Canberra. Zentai has fought it at every stage.

Yesterday his lawyer Dennis Barich said to media: “Why force an 88-yr-old man to fly half way around the world just to face questioning.” Barich said that powerful submissions had been made to Brendan O’Connor, the Minister for Home Affairs with whom the final decision to extradite Zentai lies.

Barich said that submissions filed with the Minister include claims that witness statements against Zentai are “tainted and possibly made under coercion or torture by the secret police”.

If Brendan O’Connor decides that the extradition should take place, further appeals will be made.

Efraim Zuroff

Efraim Zuroff

Efraim Zuroff, the Israel Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Institute said: ” For five years Mr Zentai has succeeded in postponing his trial, despite his proclaimed innocence, by mounting a variety of technical challenges unconnected to his case. Given the seriouscharges against him, we very much hope that his extradition wil be approved as quickly as possible so that justice can finally be achieved. What Minister O’Conner and the Australian public must remember is that Mr Zentai is currently elderly but in the prime of his life he is accused of commiting the murder of an innocent 18-yr-old boy simply because he was Jewish.”

J-Wire ran a Q & A with Zentai’s son Ernie Steiner. Read it here

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