BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian prosecutors detained a 97-year-old war crime suspect on Wednesday, accusing him of torturing Jewish prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and helping to deport them to Auschwitz.
Nazi-hunters from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre named Laszlo Csatary, a Hungarian national, as their most wanted war crimes suspect. Prosecutors in Budapest said he had hit Jewish prisoners with a dogs’ whip when he was a police commander in the Nazi-occupied town of Kosice, which was then part of Hungary and is now in Slovakia.
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre says it has provided Hungary with evidence that in 1944 Csatary helped to organise the deportation of around 16,000 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp from Kosice.
“Today the Budapest Prosecution Office has taken Laszlo Csatary into custody and has questioned him on suspicion of war crimes,” prosecutor Tibor Ibolya told a news conference.
Csatary, who was in a good physical and mental condition for his age, was co-operating with investigators, Ibolya said. He has denied the accusations.
Ibolya also said prosecutors would apply to have Csatary placed under house arrest, which would enable authorities to revoke his passport.
The accuse him of “war crime committed by unlawful torture of human beings”, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In a statement the prosecutors said Csatary was in charge of a camp based in a brick factory where close to 12,000 Jews were deported from the town’s surroundings.
“In that position, Dr. Laszlo Cs. regularly whipped the deported Jews with a dogs’ whip,” the prosecutors said in an English-language statement.
They also accused Csatary of involvement in the deportation of the nearly 12,000 Jews in Kosice to death camps, most of them to Auschwitz. The English-language statement said Csatary was present and involved.
In one specific instance in June 1944, the prosecutors said Csatary has refused the request of a Jewish prisoner, crammed in a wagon with nearly 80 other people, to let air in.
The case is expected to last several months.
Another suspect, former Hungarian gendarme officer Sandor Kepiro, died at 97 in September in Budapest after a court cleared him of involvement in killing more than 1,000 civilians in the Serb city of Novi Sad in 1942.
Reporting by Krisztina Than/Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo