A 99-year-old Nazi war crimes suspect, Hungarian Laszlo Csatary, has died while awaiting trial, his lawyer said.
Csatary died in a Hungarian hospital after suffering from a number of medical problems, lawyer Gabor Horvath confirmed.
He at one time topped the list of most wanted Nazi war crimes suspects and is alleged to have assisted in the murder of 15,700 Jews during World War II.
He faced charges relating to his wartime activities in both Hungary and in Slovakia.
Horvath said his client died on Saturday morning: “He had been treated for medical issues for some time but contracted pneumonia, from which he died.”
Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said they were “deeply disappointed” at Csatary’s death ahead of his possible trial in Hungary.
“It is a shame that Csatary, a convicted… and totally unrepentant Holocaust perpetrator who was finally indicted in his homeland for his crimes, ultimately eluded justice and punishment at the very last minute,” Zuroff said in a statement.
Csatary had denied the allegations against him, saying he was merely an intermediary between Hungarian and German officials and was not involved in war crimes.
In 1944 he was the Royal Hungarian Police commander in the city of Kassa in Hungary (now Košice in Slovakia). In charge of a Jewish ghetto, he was accused of helping organise the deportation of approximately 15,700 Jews to Auschwitz and of having inhumanely exercised his authority in a forced labour camp.
Csatary was also said to have brutalised the inhabitants of the city. He was convicted in absentia for war crimes in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and sentenced to death. He fled to Canada in 1949 claiming to be a Yugoslav national and settled in Montreal where he became an art dealer. He became a citizen in 1955.
In 1997, his Canadian citizenship was revoked by the federal Cabinet for lying on his citizenship application. He fled the country two months later.
In 2012, Csatary was tracked down to Budapest, Hungary, based on a tip received by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in September 2011. His address was revealed by reporters from Britain’s ‘Sun’ newspaper in July 2012.
He was reportedly taken into custody on 18 July 2012 by the Hungarian authorities for questioning.
On 30 July 2012, Slovak Justice Minister Tomáš Borec told reporters in Bratislava that Slovakia wanted Csatary to be tried in that country.
A file that the Simon Wiesenthal Center had prepared on Csatary implicated him in the deportation of 300 people from Kassa in 1941. In August 2012 the Budapest Prosecutor’s Office dropped these charges, saying Csatary was not in Kassa at the time and lacked the rank to organise the transports. In January 2013 it was reported that Slovak police had found a witness to corroborate other charges relating to deportations of 15,700 Jews from Kassa from May 1944.
On 28 March 2013, the Slovak County Court in Košice changed the 1948 verdict in Csatary’s case.
The verdict was changed from death penalty to the life sentence according to the newspapers.
The reason for that was to make the verdict executable. According to media reports the Prosecutor’s office spokesman said: “Now the court has the task of delivering the verdict to the convict.”
On 18 June 2013, prosecutors in Hungary indicted Csatary for war crimes, saying he had abused Jews and helped to deport Jews to Auschwitz in World War II. A spokesperson for the Budapest Chief Prosecutor’s Office said: “He is charged with the unlawful execution and torture of people, (thus) committing war crimes partly as a perpetrator, partly as an accomplice.”
The Budapest higher court suspended his case on 8 July 2013, however, because, “Csatary had already been sentenced for the crimes included in the proceedings, in former Czechoslovakia in 1948”.
The court added it needed to be established whether the 1948 ruling, a death sentence changed to life imprisonment later, could be valid in Hungary and under what circumstances Csatary could serve the sentence.