Latvia progresses on Kalejs' extradition treaty

  • 2000-06-22
  • By Sandra Medearis
RIGA - Six months after former Arajs Kommando member and Latvian
Konrads Kalejs fled to Australia after being ejected from Britain
amid international pressure to prosecute him on war crimes and
genocide, a wire service report has stirred a flap that charges on
genocide from Latvian prosecutors are imminent, and that Latvia will
soon ask Australia to extradite Kalejs to Latvia.

Still, prosecutors and those interested in bringing Kalejs to trial
say there will be no rapid movement in the case, as the Prosecutor
General's Office head prosecutor Rudite Abolina continues to consider
evidence against Kalejs. A committee within Latvia's Cabinet of
Ministers did accept a draft extradition treaty June 19 which could
be passed by Parliament. The treaty could be used to bring Kalejs
back to face a charge of genocide.

Accused of killing Jews, gypsies and communists in Nazi-occupied
Latvia, Kalejs, 86, denies all charges.

"I have done nothing of the kind. I have participated in nothing like
that," Kalejs said in an interview broadcast shortly after his
January arrival in Australia.

Meanwhile, Efraim Zuroff, director of Nazi hunting organization Simon
Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, does not give credence to Latvia's
present intentions to prosecute Kalejs on present evidence.

"Rudite Abolina is not going to press charges," Zuroff said June 19
in a phone interview from Australia. "There is no new evidence.

In the Baltics some people know how to make the right noises, but has
a single Nazi gone to trial? No.

"When they want to prosecute, there are many ways to prosecute. When
Latvia truly wants Kalejs, they will know how to ask for his
extradition," Zuroff said.

Dzintra Subrovska, spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office,
when asked basic questions about the case said questions on
extradition were not in her competence, that she would get back to
the reporter at quitting time with more fruitful references.
Subrovska said essentially that there has been no change in Latvia's
take on Kalejs, even that it is possible that no charges will be

"Abolina also did not say that she would bring charges," she said. "I
can't say that we have moved forward, because we are now just working
more intensively on this case, but we have been working on it
intensively all the time.

"We are examining all international conventions and documents to see
if we can charge him. We have not gotten very far with the charges
yet," Subrovska said June 19

Abolina told Reuters in a phone interview June 19 that "we are
currently intensively discussing possibilities of filing charges
against Kalejs, based on international legal norms, including the
Hague and Geneva conventions."

"A request for extradition may proceed only after there have been
charges," Subrovska said. "In every investigation there is a point
when one has to decide whether to step forward or back with charges.
In this case, we are at this point. What we have is the product of
international cooperation and exchanges."

Kalejs was a field officer and company commander in the Latvian
paramilitary outfit Arajs Kommando which oversaw the Salaspils
concentration camp in the forests outside Riga, where by closest
accounts, about 30,000 Jews and Russian prisoners of war died.

During the first six months of the Nazi occupation of Latvia, 90
percent of its Jewish population of 70,000 were slaughtered,
sometimes with the help of local collaboration. Nazi hunters say
Kalejs was one of those who helped to kill Jews.

News reports from Australia say Kalejs has been moved from house to
house in the Latvian community in the Melbourne area to elude news
media and Nazi hunters.

Kalejs emigrated to Australia after the war and acquired citizenship.
He moved to the United States in 1959 and lived there until he was
deported in 1994 after a court said he was in command of a company
that killed 30,000 people in the Salaspils concentration camp.
Following an investigation the Australian authorities said in 1998
that evidence was insufficient to bring charges. Kalejs went to
Britain in 1999 where he was discovered in a retirement home by Nazi
hunters and news media.

Will Kalejs ever step on Latvian soil?

"I'll be very happy if that happens, but it depends on Latvia and
Australia," Zuroff said.