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Europe

Former Nazi war crimes suspect Kepiro dies aged 97

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-03

Former Hungarian gendarmerie captain Sandor Kepiro, once the world’s most wanted Nazi war crimes suspect, has died in Budapest aged 97, six weeks after he was cleared of ordering mass executions in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in January 1942.

AFP - Hungary's Sandor Kepiro, until recently the world's most wanted Nazi war crimes suspect, died Saturday in Budapest aged 97, according to his family.

The announcement, reported by the Hungarian news agency MTI, came six weeks after a Budapest court cleared Kepiro of the war crimes charges against him.

"Sandor Kepiro... died Saturday morning, the family and lawyer of the deceased announced," MTI reported, without giving any details of the exact time or cause of death.

The former Hungarian gendarmerie captain had been suspected of ordering the execution of over 30 Jews and Serbs in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in January 1942.

Until his acquittal, Kepiro had topped the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most wanted Nazi war criminals.

In Belgrade, Serb war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic voiced regret that Kepiro had died, claiming justice had not yet bene done for the victims of the Novi Sad killings.

"We regret that the truth has not been established before justice regarding this crime and that justice has not been served for the victims," Vukcevic was quoted as saying by the Serbian Tanjug news agency,

The court in Budapest had freed Kepiro on July 18, following a two-month trial that relied heavily on evidence contained in old documents and testimonies.

In his closing remarks after that verdict, Judge Bela Varga noted that the trial "has primarily raised concerns and doubts, but no facts.

"Because there were so many doubts and concerns, the court acquitted (Kepiro) not on the basis of the lack of a criminal act, but based on the lack of proof," he said.

Kepiro had faced a possible life sentence for his alleged participation in a raid by Hungarian forces -- then allied to Nazi Germany -- in Novi Sad on January 21-23, 1942, in which more than 1,200 Jews and Serbs were murdered.

Visibly weakened at his trial, Kepiro, who always insisted on his innocence, had been in hospital since July.

Although he was deemed fit enough to stand trial, the proceedings dragged on to take into account the defendant's diminishing health and poor hearing, and he appeared in court for the verdict in a wheelchair and with a drip attached to his arm.

"I am innocent, I never killed, I never robbed," he had insisted before the verdict.

His acquittal sparked immediate criticism from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and from Serbia, where hundreds gathered in Belgrade and Novi Sad to protest the court's decision, shouting "He is guilty."

The Wiesenthal Center called it a "scandal" and an "outrageous miscarriage of justice."

"(The) verdict is laughing in the face of at least 1,246 victims of the raid in Novi Sad," said the centre's director, Efraim Zuroff after the court read out its decision.

Kepiro had already been found guilty of the crimes in Novi Sad twice in the 1940s but avoided prison by fleeing to Argentina in 1944, where he remained for half a century before returning to Budapest in 1996, where he was tracked down by Nazi hunter Zuroff.

With proceedings against another Nazi war criminal, Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk, closed in Germany in May, Kepiro trial's had been seen as one of the last of its kind.
 

Date created : 2011-09-03

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