Israel to attend conference on Kalejs

  • 2000-02-10
  • By Blake Lambert
RIGA - Although it intially refused the invitation, the Israeli government will be sending a representative to an international prosecutors meeting scheduled for Feb. 16-17 in Riga.

The conference, which was announced at the International Holocaust Forum in Stockholm last month, will focus on the case of Konrads Kalejs, an alleged war criminal.

Latvia invited five countries, excluding Israel, to attend: Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States.

Israel declined the invitation at first, citing "technical reasons"; a representative from its Ministry of Justice was scheduled to run a seminar during that time.

Ronit Ben Dor, Israel's interim chargée d'affaires to the Baltic states, will be in Lithuania on Feb. 16 to commemorate the country's independence day.

On Feb. 8, the Israeli government decided to send Asher Yarden, a lawyer who is the deputy head of the claims division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"The fact of the matter is we're looking for some kind of action on the part of the Latvians," said Ben Dor.

Kalejs, who is now 86 years old and living in Australia where he retains citizenship, allegedly killed tens of thousands of Jews during World War II as a commanding officer with the Arajs Kommando.

The prosecutor general's office reopened a criminal investigation against Kalejs in January, but so far has failed to find any evidence against him.

In 1997, prosecutors found no evidence when they investigated Kalejs after he was deported from Canada.

"We sent letters to the ambassadors that we invite representatives of the countries who are competent who could report about the evidence and also possibilities to look for new evidence and new proof," said Dzintra Subrovska, press secretary for the prosecutor general's office.

When Israel was not planning to attend, Efraim Zuroff, the Israeli director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization dedicated to tracking those who committed crimes against humanity during World War II, offered to attend on the country's behalf.

The Center, which has supplied Latvian prosecutors with names of possible people who could potentially give evidence against Kalejs, has repeatedly taken Latvia to task for its failure to prosecute Nazi war criminals.

At press time, Zuroff was still waiting to hear if he would be invited as a delegate.

He wrote a letter to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga "indicating our willingness to participate, basically asking for an invitation."

Yet Subrovska said Latvia invited the countries and their representatives who could provide prosecutors with additional evidence.

"We do not send invitations to organizations."