Australian police arrest Kalejs

  • 2000-12-21
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - Alleged Nazi war criminal Konrads Kalejs, an Australian citizen of Latvian origin, was arrested in Melbourne on Dec. 13 following a request for his extradition made by the Latvian prosecutor general's office. He was later released on bail and is due to appear in Melbourne Magistrate's Court on Jan. 25.

Kalejs, who is 87 years old, is charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. The charges relate to his time as head of a guard unit at a Nazi-run camp at Salaspils near Riga between 1942 and 1943. Thousands died at the camp, including, say prosecutors, all but 10 of 300 Jews who were transported there from Western Europe.

Legal wrangles over Kalejs' extradition are expected to last a considerable time. "There will undoubtedly be a long process of appeals and the issue may be decided by biology," said Nils Muiznieks, director of the Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies in Riga, speaking to the Associated Press. Kalejs' lawyers argue he is too sick to stand trial.

News of the arrest was welcomed by the Simon Weisenthal Center in Jerusalem, which has been pushing for Kalejs' prosecution. "This is the high point of the last month. We're very happy," said Efraim Zuroff, the center's director. But Kalejs should not have been released on bail, said Zuroff. "Let him spend a few days in jail," he said.

Guntars Krasts, chairman of the Latvian Parliament's foreign affairs committee said that delays in ratification of a revamped extradition treaty between Latvia and Australia will not affect the Kalejs case.

"Latvian MPs have resisted pressure by the foreign media to ratify this quickly because they do not want to be treated as a technical institution which rubber stamps treaties," said Krasts.

"But Kalejs could not in any case be extradited under this treaty. It specifically excludes the old and sick from its provisions."

The Latvian authorities are expected to resort to other international treaties on the prosecution of war criminals in order to extradite Kalejs.

The case will be good for Latvian society, said Zuroff.

"MPs' reluctance to ratify the extradition treaty reflects a mind-set in a part of Latvian society which refuses to acknowledge Latvian participation in the crimes of the Holocaust," he said.

"A trial in Riga is therefore all the more important. President Vike-Freiberga has to explain to the Latvian people and the country's law-makers why this is important."

Zuroff said the Latvian authorities should push ahead with prosecution of another ethnic-Latvian who has Australian citizenship, Karlis Ozols, who is also suspected of war crimes. The poor health of 88-year-old Ozols does not negate the importance of mounting a prosecution, said Zuroff.

"We're afraid Ozols' physical condition means a trial will never happen. But justice behoves he should be indicted."

While Kalejs has admitted he was a member of the Arajs Commando, a Nazi-sponsored death squad which operated in the first months of the German occupation, prosecutors say there is insufficient evidence of crimes he may have committed at that time. Such a lack does not exist in the case of Ozols, says Zuroff.