Alleged Nazi war criminal Karoly “Charles” Zentai has paved the way for a damages suit against the Australian government for wrongful imprisonment during its unsuccessful extradition case against him.
Zentai, a 91-year-old pensioner living in Perth, was imprisoned in Western Australia for almost two months in 2009.
He filed a writ last week for unspecified damages inflicted while he was in prison against the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, the Federal Attorney-General and the chief executive of the WA Department of Corrective Services.
Ernie Steiner, Zentai’s son, said that to keep the option of a lawsuit open, the writ had to be filed in the Supreme Court within three years of his father’s imprisonment.
Zentai was accused of committing a “war crime” when he allegedly killed an 18-year-old Jew in Hungary in 1944. He has vehemently denied the charges from the moment he was first arrested by the Australian Federal Police in 2005 after they were tipped off by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Zentai finally won the long-running legal case earlier this year when the High Court of Australia dismissed an appeal by the federal government. The judges in Canberra upheld an earlier ruling by the Federal Court, saying he could not be surrendered for an offense that did not exist under Hungarian law in 1944.
“My father was vilified, wrongfully arrested and imprisoned, was prevented from visiting his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and suffered enormous financial loss for nothing,” Steiner said.
But the Wiesenthal Center’s Dr. Efraim Zuroff said the fact Zentai was not extradited did not prove his innocence. “That issue has never been determined in a court of law,” he said.