Zentai: Commonwealth back in the Driver’s Seat

August 17, 2011 by J-Wire Staff
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Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor has to determine what constitutes a war crime in the legal battle to satisfy the request for extradition by the Hungarian government of 89-yr-old Perth resident Charles Zentai to face questioning over the 1944 murder of Jewish youth Peter Balazs in Budapest.

Charles Zentai

The Federal Court’s ruling last year that the Government had erred in law when approving the extradition last year has been successfully partially appealed by the Government.

The Government is now considering the decision.

Peter Balazs was an 18-yr-old spotted in a Budapest tram not wearing the mandatory yellow star. He was not obliged to as he was living under Swiss protection. He was dragged from the tram to army barracks where he was slowly beaten to death in front other prisoners.

Hungarian authorities want to question Zentai in relation to the killing.

A spokeswoman for the Minister told J-Wire: “The Full Federal Court allowed two of the three grounds of the Commonwealth’s appeal against a decision in 2010 to set aside the Minister’s determination to surrender Mr Zentai to Hungary to face prosecution for a war crime.

The Full Federal Court upheld that Mr Zentai is an ‘accused’ person within the meaning of the Extradition Act, and that the Minister took into account relevant considerations when considering whether it would be unjust, oppressive or incompatible with humanitarian considerations to surrender Mr Zentai to Hungary.

However, the Full Federal Court did not uphold the Commonwealth’s ground of appeal that the offence for which Hungary seeks Mr Zentai’s extradition is an offence for which he could be surrendered in accordance with the Treaty between Australia and Hungary. This is because the offence of ‘war crime’ was not listed on Hungary’s statute books at the time the offence was allegedly committed.

It was appropriate to appeal to the Full Court as the case raised significant and complex issues for the administration of Australia’s extradition regime.

The Full Federal Court decision is currently under consideration by the Government in consultation with the Commonwealth’s legal advisers and it is not appropriate to comment further at this stage”.

From his home in Perth, Zentai’s son Ernie Steiner told J-Wire: “While we are pleased that 2 of the 3 judges issued a writ of mandamus on the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon. Brendan O’Connor to resolve the question of whether it was in fact a war crime that took place in 1944, we would far prefer the Government to consider my father’s age and poor health and invite Hungarian officials to Australia to question him. Living witness Mr Karoly Szabo from Sydney who was at the barracks at the time of the murder of Peter Balazs and received a report about the incident that night could also be questioned. We feel it is a reasonable proposal in the circumstances. It would give Hungary the opportunity to examine important evidence that the Australian Government refuses to consider and avoid further unnecessary costs to the Australian and Hungarian taxpayers. My father’s lawyers are reviewing yesterday’s judgment to determine the next course of action. It was difficult for everyone to grasp all the implications of the announcement in the Federal Court yesterday but my father is relieved that orders have been suspended and that he will remain on his current bail conditions for now.”



One Response to “Zentai: Commonwealth back in the Driver’s Seat”
  1. Jan says:

    Well, I think the header was misleading. It is a far fetch to allege that they’re now steering the case. Majority of the appeal points were dismissed. On the other hand, the case is now referred back to the relevant minister who will make a determination what constitutes a war crime. I haven’t seen yet the decision as it is not published on the Federal Court’s website. In any event, a determination by the minister now is a fresh i.e. a new determination. I would assume that the new determination is once again subject to another application filed under the Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth). In other words, even if the outcome would be an unfavorable decision to Mr. Zentai, it would open the door for an all new process starting from the single judge of the Federal Court.

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