Scotland refuses to hand over war crimes suspect

  • 2001-09-06
  • BNS
VILNIUS - Scotland has sent notice to Lithuania that it cannot honor Lithuania's request to extradite war crimes suspect Antanas Gecas to face trial in his native land due to his poor health.

The Lithuanian prosecutor general received the Scottish Executive's answer to their extradition request on Sept. 4.

Gecas, who changed his surname from its original form Gecevicius while living in Britain, is 85 and hospitalized in Edinburgh, Scotland. Last month a commission of healthcare personnel found him unable to face trial because of his diabetes, two heart attacks and other chronic ailments.

Asked what the prosecutor general's next step would be, the prosecutor's press representative Vidmantas Putelis said: "We are currently studying the documents received from Scotland."

A representative of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center, commenting on the latest turn of events in the Gecas case, called on the Scottish Executive to "institute periodic examinations, so that if Gecas does recover he can be prosecuted."

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Jerusalem branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, asked Lithuania to try Gecas in absentia.

The prosecutor general's Special Investigations Division reported that there is no legal basis to try Gecas in absentia in Lithuania. Lithuanian jurisprudence provides for trial in absentia when a defendant is in the country but unable to attend proceedings against him due to physical disability, or when a suspect flees from justice to another country. Neither category applies to Gecas.

The Scottish Executive said it would reopen deliberations on Lithuania's request to extradite Gecas if his health improves.

Lithuania sent a request to Great Britain in March to extradite him for crimes he allegedly committed during World War II in Nazi-occupied Lithuania.

Gecas allegedly took part in Nazi operations against civilians in occupied Lithuania and Belarus when he was employed in a Lithuanian police battalion loyal to the Nazis.

The first case against him was brought in Soviet-occupied Lithuania back in 1987, but was dropped the same year for unknown reasons. The case was reopened in February 2000 when new information about his activities surfaced.

In 1992 he lost a libel case in a Scottish court against Scottish Television for a documentary it aired implicating him in crimes in Nazi-occupied Lithuania.

The Scottish court trying the case found Gecas had led the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion, which was subordinate to the Nazis in 1941 and 1942. Police officers in that battalion carried out offensive actions against Soviet partisans and killed innocent civilians.

Gecas maintains he committed no war crimes and never killed anyone.

Lithuanian prosecutors are currently investigating upwards of 90 cases of genocide committed against Lithuanian citizens and residents. Of these, 15 have been given over to the courts for trial.